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Sun Power, Part 1

February 10, 2015

How does the enormous power of the sun affect the earth?

Obviously, life on earth depends on the sun, but does the sun affect the earth in unique, perhaps not well understood, ways.

Light from the sun, i.e., photons, being converted to electricity, is understood, and widely accepted as being beneficial.

The aurora borealis, a thing of beauty, is caused by the sun.

But the aurora borealis is also a manifestation of the sun’s power.

The aurora borealis is caused by sun spots that produce huge changes in the magnetic fields around the sun and earth.

Image os Sun from NASA

Image of Sun from NASA

The largest known geomagnetic storm occurred in1859, and is known as the Carrington event. The 1859 storm was three times more intense than the most severe geomagnetic storm of the past thirty years.

The Carrington event took 17 hours, 40 minutes to reach the Earth, and it produced auroras seen around the world.

It is vividly described in the book, The Sun Kings, by Stuart Clark, with highlights mentioned here.

Telegraph operators in Boston and Pittsburg found their equipment arcing, and were just barely able to disconnect the telegraph equipment from the lines. Immediately after being disconnected the metal frames of the equipment were too hot to touch. The operator in Washington DC, was stunned, and nearly killed, by an electric arc from the telegraph equipment that struck his forehead.

The current in the telegraph lines surged from nothing, to being so powerful that the telegraph keys were locked in a magnetic grip.

The aurora itself, in vivid displays of red and white, could be seen as far south as Key West, Florida. While intense streamers in the sky stretched from the South Pole far north into Chile.

The aurora came in two phases spread over two nights, and could even be seen in some areas during the daytime.

The Carrington event is significant because it occurred in 1859 when the only lines carrying electricity were telegraph lines.

Today, power lines are stretched across the United States, and across other countries, such as in Europe.

Could a sun spot 93 million miles from the earth affect the electrical grid, and all the people connected to it?

The answer became clear in 1989, when a geomagnetic storm caused the grid in Quebec, Canada to fail.

The 1989 storm was one-third the size of the Carrington event.

The reason for the grid failure in Canada was, quoting from the government’s report: “Ground induced currents (GICs) can overload the grid, causing severe voltage regulation problems and, potentially, widespread power outages. Moreover, GICs can cause intense internal heating in extra-high-voltage transformers, putting them at risk of failure or even permanent damage.” And, there are “300 EHV transformers in the United States” that are at risk.

A geomagnetic storm the size of a Carrington event could cause the grid to collapse if the EHV transformers fail, as they did in Canada, so that all the people in the northern part of the United States, and in Canada, would be without electricity for months, if not for over a year.

This would mean that all the people living in Seattle, Chicago, Cleveland and New York, and all those living between these cities, could be without electricity for a year or more. The same would be true in other northern areas, such as Europe.

It should be noted that all services that depend on electricity, such as lighting, elevators, gasoline station pumps, refrigeration, and home heating, etc., won’t function when the grid goes down.

Failure of the grid for over a year could end civilization as we know it. See A Carrington Catastrophe.

If sun spots are so powerful that they can bring an end to our civilization, why can’t they also affect our climate?

Have sun spots been linked to climate in the past?

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. permalink
    February 10, 2015 10:01 am

    Donn The satellite that you said in your write up 1/11/13 was to be replaced in 2014.  Was it?  If not, what is the plan? Rich

    • February 10, 2015 10:13 am

      The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration DSCOVR satellite was to be launched last Friday, but was delayed due to weather.
      A successful launch would mean we have a satellite in place that can provide 15 to 60 minute warning of strong solar storms.

  2. February 10, 2015 10:24 am

    Pittock (1978, 1983) has reviewed extensively the literature on solar variability and climate. He concludes that the approximately 20-year drought cycle in the western United States is related jointly to the 22-year Hale double sunspot cycle and the 18.6-year lunar nodical cycle. He regards the evidence as merely indicative, however, because the signals are difficult to identify in the climate record. Furthermore, detailed causal mechanisms connecting the extraterrestrial variations to the atmosphere have not been determined.

    • February 10, 2015 10:29 am

      Thanks for your comment. The linkage between the sun and the Earth, and the other possible factors in this incredibly complex environment, are not well understood. One possibility will be discussed in Part II.


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