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Space Storms Affect Life on Earth

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Space Storms Affect Life on Earth

Studies of how the Earth's environment interacts with space and the solar wind are far more than an academic exercise. They are important in shaping the environment we enjoy today - and whether we enjoy it in the dark.


The solar wind and space plasma storms induce massive electrical currents that can affect power systems on the ground, especially in the north. A large storm in 1989 induced currents in the American northeast that caused a failure in the Hydro-Quebec power system that deprived 6 million people of power for over 9 hours in Canada and the United States. The same storm expanded the upper atmosphere and increased drag on NASA's Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) satellite which carried valuable specimens of materials in space exposure tests (NASA recovered LDEF before it could re-enter the atmosphere).

Similar storms can set up currents that corrode the metal structure of petroleum pipelines, disrupt satellite and land-based communications, short-circuit satellite electronics, and interfere with navigational systems on ships and aircraft.

We cannot stop geomagnetic storms, but we can understand them and, eventually, predict what their effects may be in time to take measures to protect valuable power grids, satellites, aircraft, and other systems. Instruments like Polar's Thermal Ion Dynamics Experiment and Plasma Source Instrument will help provide that knowledge.

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November 20, 1996

Authors: Dave Dooling, B.L. Giles
Curator: Bryan Walls
NASA Official: John M. Horack