News FocusSpace Weather Forecasting

Are We Ready for the Next Solar Maximum? No Way, Say Scientists

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Science  26 Jun 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5935, pp. 1640-1641
DOI: 10.1126/science.324_1640

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If the once-in-500-years "solar superstorm" that crippled telegraph systems for a day or two across the United States and Europe in 1859 but otherwise was mainly remembered for its dramatic light show were to happen today, the charged-particle radiation and electromagnetic fury would fry satellites, degrade GPS navigation, disrupt radio communications, and trigger continent-wide blackouts lasting weeks or longer. Even a storm of the century would wreak havoc. That's why space physicists are so anxious to forecast space weather storms accurately. If predicting a hurricane a few days ahead can help people prepare for a terrestrial storm's onslaught, they reason, predicting solar storms should help operators of susceptible systems prepare for an electromagnetic storm. And space weather forecasters' next challenge is coming up soon. The next peak in the 11-year sunspot cycle of solar activity looms in 2012 or 2013. A space weather symposium last month asked, "Are we ready for Solar Max?" The unanimous answer from participants was "No."