Washington Post] Weather is not limited to the clouds, wind, extremes of heat and cold and precipitation systems that we experience on Earth. The broiling surface of the sun generates its own weather, or space weather, frequently unleashing waves of plasma that bombard the Earth’s atmosphere.
A principal concern is the following: At some point
in our lifetimes, the sun could unleash a dangerous surge of
magnetically-charged plasma that could severely damage or destroy
critically important electric power systems, satellites, spacecraft and
The White House, realizing that an extreme solar storm could jeopardize the nation’s vitality and security, released a strategy and multi-agency plan on Thursday to prepare for and coordinate responses to the space weather threat.
was motivated by a recognition that we need a cohesive national network
to build resilience [to space weather] and to determine what we need to
know,” said Bill Murtagh, assistant director for space weather at White
House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). “This is a real
and present danger, this is a real threat.”
development, co-chaired by NOAA, the Department of Homeland Security and
OSTP, was the work of members from seven Cabinet-level departments as
well as 13 agencies and service branches.
Murtagh said the need for the plan arose over time as government
officials as well as constituents from the electric power,
telecommunications and emergency management sectors became increasingly
aware of the risks posed by space weather.
Most solar storms are
benign and occur regularly. They manifest themselves in magnificent
display of aurora at high latitudes. But extreme events, the kind
scientists fear, are rare. Our current infrastructure hasn’t been tested
by this class of storm, but scientists know they are possible, based on
recent activity on the sun as well as the historic record.
2012, NASA said the sun unleashed two massive clouds of plasma that
barely missed a catastrophic encounter with Earth. “If it had hit, we
would still be picking up the pieces,” physicist Daniel Baker of the
University of Colorado told NASA two years after it happened.
[How a solar storm two years ago nearly caused a catastrophe on Earth]
said a direct strike could’ve caused widespread power outages and other
damaging effects. More troubling, it cited research which suggests that
there is a 12 percent chance of something like this happening in the
next decade. Read More