Space storms could knock out National Grid and Sat Navs

Space storms caused by the Sun could knock out power supplies and satellite navigation systems in Britain, claim scientists.
By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent
Published: 7:01AM BST 14 Apr 2010

The solar flares and sunspots throw massive clouds of electrically charged gas at the Earth which cause power surges and throw compasses into disarray.

The weather in space has been through an unprecedented calm period in the last century but the researchers believe we could be entering a more volatile period.

When their sat-navs die, my friends will offer me lifts againThe reason is that the Sun has dimmed to its lowest activity level in nearly 150 years – a phenomenon that usually precedes huge space storms.

The last really big solar “super flare” – in 1859 – knocked out telegrams and ship’s compasses and covered two-thirds of the Earth in a blood red aurora.

Now a team of British scientists at Lancaster University and the British Geological Survey (BGS) in Edinburgh have developed a new model that shows the widespread impact inclement space weather could have on the UK.

Dr Alan Thomson, the leader of the team, who will present their findings at the National Astronomy Meeting in Glasgow, said: “A major objective is to shed light on the impact of both everyday and extreme space weather on our technologies and therefore to be better aware of the risk.”

The model developed by the British team, the most sophisticated yet developed, takes magnetic field measurements from all over the UK and sees how they affect the National Grid.

The US National Academies estimate the cost of a future severe space storm hitting the USA to be up to £1.5 trillion in the first year.

They believe that full recovery could then take 4-10 years.

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