For years grid experts have chimed in alongside NASA to warn that the sun could one day disrupt our grid connected power supplies. It would seem that day has already arrived. After a series of massive eruptions from the sun power outages have been reported in Chile, Texas City, New Jersey, and Seattle among others. While the power outages may be a coincidence and caused by a series of failures either planned or otherwise, there is a growing voice of discontent over the vulnerability of plugged in power systems and the possibility that more may be on the way. So does the Sun have a part in all of this?
The sun has always been a source of heat since the dawn of life on our planet. It’s arguable that indeed everything life has it owes to the sun. But ancient cultures, such as Mayan civilizations also understood that just as the Sun can be a great boon to civilization it can take that power and prosperity away just as easily. And now that NASA has caught up to this philosophy with their own interpretations warning of a geomagnetic storm, it seems that the time for speculation may well be over.
Shortly before the power outages began a series of solar flares started popping up from the surface of the sun. The latest episode started first on September 24th when an M 8.6 magnitude flare erupted soon after followed by another one the following morning measuring as an M class 8.8. The power outages continue to come through – often reported as unexplained or mysterious – while solar observers blame a geomagnetic storm sending Auroras south far enough to be seen in North America. After several similar storms earlier this year soon followed by power interruptions, some are suggesting we are looking at some of the greatest evidence of the sun’s interaction with the power grid to date – a subject not without its share of controversy.
As the evidence begins to pile up so are the denials. And yet it seems the greatest test to the power grid may still be upcoming as the sun ramps up its activity yet again. With NASA’s warning that the greatest display of solar activity may not come until 2012 to 2013, it seems we are only beginning to see a tiny fraction of what we may eventually experience. Such a powerful storm may not only fry orbital satellite systems, but even bring down the power grid across the United States – and possibly the world. And while some urge caution and calm on the matter, it seems the controversy is heating up.
Will we see a catastrophic solar event in the next two years? Some have dedicated years to preparing for it. And the fact that it seems to coincide with the Mayan calendar so precisely is certainly not lost on those watching the skies with reverence and a bit of fear.