Solar, Space, and Geomagnetic Weather, Part III By Stephanie Osborn

*My apologies to Stephanie AND the readers on putting this up so late.  I meant to cue it yesterday, but it was one of those nights one minute I was at the computer and the other I was in bed and asleep, with no memory of anything in between. Probably because I’d been up since four am.- SAH*

Solar, Space, and Geomagnetic Weather, Part III

By Stephanie Osborn

“Interstellar Woman of Mystery”

Rocket Scientist and Novelist


So we’ve talked about coronal holes, the solar wind, solar cycles, sunspots, flares, and Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs). Now, mind, of all of those, there are really only two that can reach us. One is the solar wind, and any enhanced wind streams from those coronal holes. And the other is a CME.

(That said, the X-rays from a solar flare can and do reach us and cause their own problems. We’ll touch more on that when we cover NOAA’s solar/geomagnetic weather indices.)

Just what effects do coronal hole wind streams and CMEs have on Earth?

Now, we’ve talked several times about a bar magnet, with its field lines traced out by iron filings on a piece of paper. And we all know that that is a nice, symmetric image.

But the Earth’s magnetic field (aka magnetosphere aka geomagnetic field) is not nice and symmetric. This is because the solar wind is pushing on it. So the side toward the Sun has a “bow shock” and is compressed, and the side away from the Sun is stretched out into a tail. Like this:



Here’s a little more close-up detail:

Van Allen

Note the Van Allen radiation belt in this image. All those charged particles can get caught up into our mag field and cause higher levels of radiation. They ping back and forth between our North and South poles and eventually enter the upper layers of the atmosphere. We’ll talk more about that in a minute. The more charged particles hit our magnetosphere, the more get caught in the Van Allen Belts (VAB), and the more apt we are to have atmospheric effects. So an enhanced solar wind stream (EWS) from a coronal hole can generate some interesting phenomena.

But the granddaddy of those phenomena is caused by a coronal mass ejection hitting Earth. Because those suckers are (relatively) dense and VERY energized. And it might look something like this:



[No. It’s not. Really.]

Worse…remember how flares are the detonations caused by “magnetic reattachment”? Well, if a CME is powerful enough, it can put so much stress on the magnetotail (that part stretched off to the right in these images) that it can snap off, and reattach closer to Earth! The energy feedback from THAT can get pretty powerful, too!

How energetic IS all this stuff?

Well, these events can actually raise the temperature of the outer layers of the Earth’s atmosphere (the thermosphere, aptly named) sufficient to cause it to expand. This affects us, because that increases drag on satellites and spacecraft, and can cause the orbits of satellites to decay and re-enter well before they were intended. This is really bad if it’s something important, like a weather satellite during hurricane season. After all, if the people of Galveston had had weather satellites in 1900, the city could have been evacuated well before it got hit, because they would have known it was coming for days. If we DON’T have weather satellites because we’ve lost ‘em to increased atmospheric drag, we might as well go back to those days, as far as weather prediction is concerned. Ditto communications satellites. Don’t even mention GPS.

It affects manned spacecraft, too. Shuttle and Station did and do, respectively, have problems maintaining orbital altitude when all this causes the atmosphere to swell. Stationkeeping maneuvers/burns must occur more often. A spacecraft in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) that is not being maintained with active stationkeeping IS going to come down sooner or later. Probably sooner.

Disruption of the Earth’s magnetic field can be a problem. It can disrupt radio communication (including cell phones) rather severely. It can damage satellites that remain in orbit. It can generate “induced current” in any lengthy conductor. Let’s pause for a moment and talk about that.

Induced current is a way of using magnetic fields to generate electricity. Remember how I said, back in part I, that the “current” of plasma created by the Sun’s rotation on its axis generated a magnetic field? The reverse is also true. A moving magnetic field can generate an electrical current in any conductor placed within the field. So the disruption of the geomagnetic field constitutes a “moving” magnetic field and will induce electrical currents in everything from power lines to pipes and conduits.

When these truly huge induced currents hit things like transformers and circuit breakers and power stations, they can quickly overload them. This, in turn, can (and has) cause(d) blackouts and brownouts, particularly in parts of the country/world where the power grid is not robust enough to handle significant surges. (Given that most large substation transformers are still hand-built, and have a lead time of months between determining need and installation, that could be a real problem.)

Long pipelines, like the Alaskan Pipeline, can be affected as well. In fact corrosion is occurring at a higher rate than expected because its northerly location exposes it to such induced currents all the time (remember that the ends of a bar magnet’s field are open). And there are plenty of those.

Here’s a map created by Samuel Bailey ( of gas pipelines just in the EU and Russia, for Wikipedia. And all of these will develop induced currents.

natural gas pipelines

Here’s another map of the natural gas pipelines just in the continental USA.

gas pipelines usa


Around the world, long-span pipelines carry water, oil, natural gas, ammonia, alcohol fuels, and in places, hydrogen. Some of these could cause problems with induced currents.

And this same moving magnetic field that induces currents in conductive manmade structures also causes the aurorae.



Most of you reading this have heard of the Northern Lights, properly termed the Aurora Borealis, and many may have seen them; but there are also the Southern Lights, the Aurora Australis. The Aurora Australis is much harder to see, because there is considerably less land mass in the Southern Hemisphere in a position TO see them — only Antarctica, extreme southern Australia, the extreme southern tip of South America, and perhaps New Zealand. These are actually ovals that circle the magnetic poles of Earth (and most other planets with magnetic fields, by the way. They’ve been photographed on Jupiter). Here’s an image of a particularly strong auroral oval that occurred around the South Pole in 1989.

south pole 1989



They happen where the charged particles that have been caught up from the solar wind or CME into the geomagnetic field follow the field lines down into the atmosphere. The gas molecules become excited into a higher energy state, then discharge that extra energy as light. This is very similar — in fact, essentially the same — as a fluorescent light bulb, only natural and not contained. The colors are determined mostly by the main gas that is fluorescing. Carbon dioxide produces white light; nitrogen, pink or red; oxygen, green or blue. (It can also generate ozone.)

Now, having talked about all of this radiation that an increased solar wind and coronal mass ejections pump into our Earth’s system in general, and the fact that there are more of these things when there are more sunspots, when do you think the Sun is sending out more energy, Solar Max, or Solar Min? Yup, despite the logic of sunspots being cooler, the Sun actually sends out more energy during Solar Max, when there are the most sunspots.


~Stephanie Osborn

Comet Tales blog/Osborn Cosmic Weather Report:


263 thoughts on “Solar, Space, and Geomagnetic Weather, Part III By Stephanie Osborn

      1. C4C again. These posts have been a breath of fresh air, especially with all the administrivia I have to deal with as classes are starting.

    1. My official ‘SWAG’, remember the G means guess: Being ‘grounded’ helps in the sense that there are more free electrons in the dirt than in the atmosphere, but grounded is a relative term. My Parent’s home was having issues with lightening strikes with the ‘standard’ 10′ grounding rod and the power company came and drove another rod 60′ deep. The magnetic field lines run into the core of the planet, so there is no real avoiding them. Finally, buried pipelines usually have a sacrificial metal ‘anode’ nearby to take the leaching due to normal moisture. The rapidly changing field need only induce very minor voltage variations to overcome this scheme and cause more corrosion.

      1. While I don’t have any direct experience, I would say it’s likely that buried pipelines don’t suffer as much for two reasons: 1) Being underground, they are insulated to some small extent from fluctuations in the magnetic field, effectiveness of said insulating effect variable based on soil composition, depth, and moisture content, and 2) Because they are likely have much shorter distances between groundings. The above-ground pipelines have fairly long runs between connections to the ground, and those connections may not be very good as grounds, anyway, due to built-in shock absorbing mounts.

          1. OK.


            I do remember a sort-of extreme example of a buried natural gas pipe–a feeder pipe, I’m pretty sure–getting hit by lightening some years ago back where we used to live.

            1. Yes, and it IS going to depend to some extent upon the underlying geology. The 1989 Quebec blackout occurred partly due to their long-distance spans, and partly because, as it turns out, the underlying geology of the region was such as to be, um, excuse the pun, not terribly conducive, to grounding. (After all, some minerals have higher resistance than others.)

              1. Is use of non-ferrous materials for such pipelines practical? While I suppose it depends on numerous factors that need not be listed, the eventual conversion from ferrous to non-ferrous seems something worth considering (as well as being the kind of “shovel-ready” jobs we might reasonably prefer to al the bovine excrement Washington normally approves.)

                1. This is not one of those questions I can answer. I’m not a civil engineer. I got a nephew going into that, but he’s only just started. All I can say is that it seems logical to me, but there are a lot of factors to look at, such as ground movement through the year, response to freeze-thaw cycles, water resistance, etc.

                  1. So, wooden pipes, then? Got it!

                    Actually, I was thinking of plastic pipes, designed to allow some degree of flexion under pressure. IIRC, materials science is approaching materials with greater tensile stregnth and greater flexibility than steel. OTOH, my reading of such research is very very cursory, from sources (MSM) of dubious veracity.

                    1. Ceramic is good in certain areas, not so much in others. It’s pretty fragile, all in all. Even the special tiles used for Shuttle were pretty easily damaged. And they were shielding.

                    2. I was thinking of some of the hardened industrial ceramics, but it occurred to me I don’t know how much progress that’s made since I used to translate research.

                    3. It is also important to remember that in many areas the pipelines can be above ground, an environment likely less prone to flexion of the pipes. OTOH, underground pipes benefit from their earthen blanket helping contain pressure.

                      I suspect that over time we will find laminated multi-layer pipes are best, with the structural material varying according to specific locational demands. Already we’re probably seeing this as I am sure iron pipes have plastic inner liners.

                    4. See my reply to your previous comment, but it just occurred to me that carbon nanotube-based fiber composites might be able to conduct electricity quite well to allow for the lightning strike resistance.

                  2. Current pressure vessel/piping codes do not allow use of non-metallic materials in high pressure applications over about 250 psi (17 bar). Transmission pipelines are considerably high than that.

                    1. Yes, but are those codes written with materials specified, or are they actually intelligent, merely requiring testing results proving that the material meets requirements?

                    2. Once in a while, someone manages to sneak in a reasonable idea or two in regulations. I expect this happens when the normal regulators aren’t looking. But don’t call me Shirley*.

                      *What? You were expecting that last sentence, weren’t you?

                    3. The government does not write the pressure vessel and piping codes. ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) does with heavy collusion with the insurance industry and some government input.

                      And yes, depending upon the design boundary, materials, down to the specific alloy numbers, are specified by the codes. None are non-metallic for high pressure/temperature conditions.

                    4. And this is one of the problems with regulations. In order to improve anything, you have to go through whatever Sisyphean tasks are required to get regulations changed before you can make the improvements.

                      Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for testing new things before implementing them to minimize unintended consequences, but we all know that bureaucracies are not rational.

                    5. A forensic engineer friend of mine says moving fuel through a non-conductive (e.g. plastic) medium causes buildup of static electricity … spark … kaboom. He has investigated many such fires and explosions. Apparently people keep getting the “bright idea” to store fuel in plastic containers. A web search on “fuel static electricity” yields lots of examples.

                2. *plumber’s hat on*

                  Steel and cast iron (ferrous materials) are cheap, relatively lightweight, strong, readily available, cheap, resistant to mechanical forces and temperature variations, and did I mention cheap? There aren’t other materials with quite the same combination of factors available (yet).

                  Ceramic, as mentioned, is hard and resistant to heat, but brittle. Many plastics share this flaw, though there are newer compounds that are quite strong. I can’t quite recall the stuff’s name, but there’s something new that extrudes pipe pretty much as long as you feet it the right (nonferrous) goop, eliminating the point failure source that are linear junctions. Still not quite high pressure enough, costly, and not readily available in any quantity in the near future at least.

                  Wooden pipes are actually pretty decent, and there are some originally wooden lines that are a lot older than you’d think… and still in operation. Cut stone (depending on mineral content- limestone, not so much!) in sufficient thickness is relatively resistant to temperature variation (heat shock is another issue), strong, and cheap- but not readily available. The cistern on my family’s property is over a century old and still functional, if much lower than industrial pressure. The pressure is the key.

                  Pumping fluids, be they natural gas or water or oil, requires high pressure, as Joe Wooten alluded to. You can make pressure vessels out of a lot of stuff- heck, bronze would work- but the cost, availability, and ease of use (not to mention lifespan) might be an issue.

                  Believe me, if there were a better (and cheaper!) way than iron pipes, folks would jump on it like a bouncy castle. Materials sciences keeps plugging away at it, maybe we’ll get a better solution. Not looking like soon, though.

                  *plumber’s hat off*

                  I’ve not been following the industry all that closely in the past few years, so it’s likely something’s escaped me, but that’s what I can recall.

                  1. if there were a better (and cheaper!) way than iron pipes

                    Thanks for getting to the crux of my question. It would seem that the real question is specific application and regulatory oversight — I know that for in-home use metal pipe has largely gone the way of the attic exhaust fan. Given the scale of infrastructure involved it seems likely that any materials better meeting the various demands of cost, sturdiness, durability and so on would be put into use fairly quickly.

                    1. I’m dealing with a “small” plumbing problem, and a chunk of underfloor insulation got soaked. (Along with underlayment for the brand-new floor covering. Arggh!) The water-restoration guys were surprised to find that a neighborhood squirrel found the fiber glass to be a great nest. He expected wet glass, but not sunflower seed hulls to boot.

                      /Gets squirrel traps ready for when the water guys are done…

                3. Maybe for underground pipes, but one concern for above-ground pipelines is lightning. I read an article years ago talking about how they were not changing to non-metallic aircraft bodies because the aluminum shell will carry a lightning strike around the body of the plane, while something like an epoxy-fiber composite material will shatter where it is struck.

                  1. Then you have aircraft like the 787 Dreamliner that is largely carbon composites. There’s a bit of aluminum on the exterior (leading edges of tail surfaces and engine nacelle), but everything else of the exterior structure is paint over composite. Well, a little titanium bit on the fuselage tail cone. It’s total structure is 50% composite, the Airbus A350XWB is supposed to be 53% composite, but I don’t know how it’s distributed.

                    Boy, do its wings flex upward on takeoff.

  1. Long pipelines, like the Alaskan Pipeline, can be affected as well. In fact corrosion is occurring at a higher rate than expected because its northerly location exposes it to such induced currents all the time (remember that the ends of a bar magnet’s field are open). And there are plenty of those.


    Working on the principle that the maintenance practices can always be improved upon, those of the USA and Canada might be bettered. If the past is any indication, there is reason to believe that those practiced in Russia will be would have to improve markedly to reach the slackest of our present standards.

    So, I conclude, our access to a steady supply of oil, so long as the field produces, is probably better assured than those depending on the Russian product. But, I ask this knowing that there are those here who have some real knowledge of the matter, what are the other implications?

    1. This is how I try to explain it to tree huggers ranting about things like the XL pipeline. A pipeline in Peru is leaking again, about the 6th time this year because of shoddy maintenance. Do you believe the USA and Canada have higher maintenance standards than Russia and Peru? I certainly do.

      1. Yep. No contest, though the government here is trying to force things to 3rd world standards in the name of “saving money”. The Chinese are not there yet either as their construction standards are so shoddy things start falling apart within ten years.

      2. Somehow they have acquired a fundamental belief that if XL does not happen then that nasty old crude oil will remain safely in the ground. That just ain’t gonna happen snowflake.
        Oil is going to move, whether by pipe or unit train tanker car, or ship. Based on historical records, which of those methods seems to be the most secure?

        1. When you move it by train tanker car the right people (Buffett’s $15 Billion From BNSF Show Railroad Came Cheap: “Buoyed by an onshore oil boom*, BNSF has become a cash machine for Buffett. The railroad had sent [since its 2009 purchase] more than $15 billion in dividends to Berkshire through Sept. 30, according to quarterly regulatory filings, the latest of which was released last week. More stunning: The business is on pace to return all the cash Buffett spent taking it private by the end of this [2014] year.”) profit. And it is much easier to shut down the supply and repurpose the infrastructure investment.

          *”BNSF’s tracks sit on top of North Dakota’s Bakken formation, where energy producers are using fracking and other extraction methods to pull crude from the ground in unprecedented volumes. Because pipeline capacity is limited in the area, oil companies have turned to BNSF to ship their product to refineries.

          “The extra freight has exacerbated weather-related train tie-ups that the railroad has spent months working to resolve.”

            1. And thanks to the mandated installation of Positive Train Control, a another Carrington Event can screw up the rail system even more than it could have before.

    2. Please don’t think that I am anti-pipeline. I’m not. They make the most sense.

      That said, there are things that can be done to protect them from such things as geomagnetic storms, things that nobody is bothering with now because the people in charge (of the utilities, of the petroleum/nat gas companies, of the gov’t) don’t see the need.

      1. As Uncle Lar touches upon above — since we are going to move oil — where does the pipeline stand as a method of transferring it from where it is found to where it is needed?

        I didn’t get the idea that you were anti-pipeline. You were stating facts, due to effect of the sun on the earth we observe that pipelines exhibit certain problems. That being the case, we are faced with how do we address those problems, and what happens if we don’t.

        (I had an economics professor who stated that ‘doing nothing’ was always an option. It was not always the best option, but it was still an option to be considered. It would have costs, but so would ‘doing something’.)

        1. There are ways to help protect the pipelines. Evidently nobody thought about this particular effect when the Alaskan pipeline was built, but we know better now, and there are mitigation techniques that can be used. I’m not a construction expert, so I can’t go into a whole lotta detail. All I’m really doing is pointing out the problem, stating that it IS a problem, and that we not only need to go forward with this in mind, we probably need to do a good bit of retrofitting too.

          1. Are you talking about cathodic protection? wiki link That’s done in water pipelines, too, when you want additional service life. Doing this to looooooong oil pipelines would be a… nontrivial exercise, but not out of the range of possibility, either. I wouldn’t want to be the guy running maintenance on that project.

            1. Unfortunately, cathodic protection relies on differing galvanic potentials of dissimilar metals. The opposite process, electroplating is what would occur during a CME overload.

      2. A CME in Northern-hemisphere winter that both knocked out the power grid and killed off the pipelines, thus leaving lighting wood on fire the only source of heat and light, would be very very bad.

        Hardening the grid and piplines is not really that hard, just a big job. The fact that only under-the-radar work is going on on this, and that mostly to smaller efforts to prevent terror attacks from impacting urban centers, is a national disgrace, and should be a major national and state government issue.

        But at least our legislatures are working on gender neutral bathroom laws, and here in CA we’re closing our last nuke plant and building a bullet train to nowhere. Phew.

  2. The Aurora Australis is much harder to see, because there is considerably less land mass in the Southern Hemisphere in a position TO see them — only Antarctica, extreme southern Australia, the extreme southern tip of South America, and perhaps New Zealand.

    Now I have a reason to consider visiting Tasmania.

  3. All electric utilities, depending upon the inventory taxes of the locality, keep several spare big transformers around for quick (relatively) replacement of a damaged transformer. Every nuke plant keeps at least one in storage (but not shielded storage that I know of). They do not keep a spare for every active large transformer, since these are very expensive, and some states/cities/counties have big taxes on stored inventories.

    Watts Bar unit 2 just had initial power ascension testing stopped because of a fire in the main transformer for the generator. TVA is inspecting the damaged transformer to see if it is quickly repairable before pulling the spare one out of the warehouse.

    1. Not to give anything away, but in article seven of this series Steph directly addresses what is known as the Carrington Event. Or as I like to think of it, Mother Nature’s own personal EMP.
      It’s conceivable that a repetition of such an event could take out more of the main transformers than are in replacement stock, and as I understand it production of new ones has a one to two year lead time.

      1. With all the Chinese infrastructure work, it’s up to about 2 years now. I’ve talked to several old co-workers in the utility business and there are enough to get power back to critical facilities like hospitals, water supply, and refineries after an EMP or Carrington event. Residential areas, except for the politically connected, and those nearby the politically powerful, will be sucking hind tit.

        1. The grid isn’t designed that way.If Senator Snort’s mansion is at the end of miles of line, and a tornado has removed a mile of conductor near the substation, Senator Snort’s lights aren’t going to come on before the trailer down the road.

          One lady I knew, after we had a huge storm do a number on our system, thought some folks several miles away got their lights on first because they knew me. Once I got wind of that, I sighed: I’ve got zero pull, and even if I had, it wouldn’t have done any good because of the damage and how the lines that served her ran. I gave her a call, and assured her we hadn’t forgotten about her. As it happened, we got her power back on maybe a couple of hours later, but it sure wasn’t because she knew me; it was because we were finally able to fix the damage.

          Since I’ve already posted a long reply, here’s a URL to an article, Getting the Lights On, on my blog:

          1. We like to tease my Aunt that the reason she never looses power is that she lives in a Gated Community with the rich and politically connected.
            The actual reason is the aforementioned community has all underground power.

            1. Underground power is never done for practical reasons, only aesthetic, and the underground lines in that community is fed using overhead lines. If there is ever a problem with the underground lines, they will take a LOT longer to fix than a similar problem with an overhead line.

              The reason they prefer to put power on overhead lines is because, in that case, the insulator is air. If that insulation ever breaks down, simply removing whatever conductor (if any) is shorting the lines and cycling the power on those lines will cause them to work again. With buried power lines, once the insulation breaks down, it is no longer insulation, and you have to replace the line.

              As it happens, my neighborhood has underground power, and the lines were built recently enough that we don’t have regular outages (like we had in my previous neighborhood, also with buried power lines) but the reason we only lost power for 13 hours during Ike is because our substation feeds two hospitals and the overhead lines feeding the neighborhood weren’t damaged at all. That meant we were on the first lines being fixed once the winds died down to the point where they could start fixing things.

              And now I’m sure Mr. Cheek will tell you everything I’ve said that’s wrong.

              1. Faster, please:

                Mini Nuclear Power Plants For Your Neighborhood In Five Years
                November 9th, 2008

                Scientists at the US government laboratory which developed the first atomic bomb say nuclear power plants smaller than a garden shed and able to power about 20,000 homes will be available within the next five years. The miniature reactors will be factory-sealed, absent of any weapon-grade materials, and also have no moving parts.

                Awesome. Call them Nükleer and we can sell them at Ikea!
                — — —

                Seriously, we ought be planning for replacement of the current power grid and emplacement of alternatives, such as Thorium reactors or even CNG-powered home-power generators, to establish a far more resiliant system.

                1. 10 cents a watt???? That is insanely expensive electricity. Current thermal plants of all types plants generate for less than 1 cent per kilowatt hour. Hell, the federal wind power subsidy is 3 cents per kilowatt-hour. 10 cents per watt is $100 per kilowatt.

                  Also, no moving parts means it is either thermo-electric or thermionic. Those are very inefficient, probably around 8% for thermo electric or 20% for thermionic. Pretty poor use of useful heat.

                  1. 10 cents a watt installed is more than an order of magnitude less than what they’re installing solar panels for these days. (The last I heard was $2.50 per installed watt.) Don’t make the mistake of directly comparing installed watts (which just covers the cost of the capital equipment) with kilowatt-hours, which measures the energy delivered. To convert one into the other, assuming that the total cost is dominated by the installation cost, you divide the cost in dollars per watt by the expected hours of operation.

                    So, if you expect that the power plant will produce power for a year, you divide $100 (the cost of a kilowatt at $0.10 per watt) by 8760 (the number of hours in most years) and get just over $0.01 per kilowatt hour.

                    Of course, the total cost will include things other than the capital equipment cost, but I’d expect it to last a lot longer than a year.

              2. Actually, my power is underground about 2 miles down to the frail overhead lines that are the first to go when the power goes out and the last one to be put online.
                In my Aunt’s case, the run from the sub-station to the underground power lines is minimal.

              3. And now I’m sure Mr. Cheek will tell you everything I’ve said that’s wrong

                Naw. I’m not quite that cantankerous. I’ll admit to not liking underground. There was a cartoon drawn by a lineman that summed it up. Two linemen are about to open a padmount transformer, and a boy says:

                “Hey, Pa: Do you reckon that big ol’ rattlesnake we saw crawled in there and knocked out our lights?”

                Pa: “Nawwww.”

                Most uses of underground are due to aesthetics. They do have higher survivability in non-coastal storms, but take longer to repair. But there’s also some practical uses. We considered it due to to problems with a bridge project. If we did that, we’d run it in conduit instead of direct burial to make it easier to repair. Sometimes trucking companies or fast-food places with drive-throughs request it so that high vehicles won’t accidentally snag them.

                1. Our power runs underground from the road to our place, about 1000′ through heavy popple (mixed forest; I didn’t know the word until we moved to this state, it’s mixed aspen/alder/birch/maple/oak with a dusting of pine here), the which tends to fall down here and there during heavy storms. The local power guys grimaced a bit, and buried the feed as the least worst way to reach us.

      2. One difference now, compared to last time, is we can tell ahead of time if there is going to be another Carrington Event (not alot, but before it hits us). Same with any large solar storm and the electrical companies disconnect the major interties which severely limit what the induced current can effect.

        Still, I am glad I’m in one of the three State with a separate power grid.

        1. Only partly. Just realize that the flare which produces the CME also produces x-rays. The CME can travel pretty fast as such things go, but the x-rays travel at lightspeed, and will hit all our observing platforms within minutes. We do know that lesser flares have caused serious problems with space probes numerous times in the past. Plus, most of our space-based solar observatories are aging and not in the greatest shape; some are on their last legs. (We only just recently managed to recover one of the STEREO spacecraft, for instance, after having “lost” it for several years.) And it is important to know that not all flares generate CMEs, for reasons we haven’t figured out yet.

          It is entirely possible that the flare which generates the Next Carrington Event will fry our observing platforms within minutes, long before we have the chance to ascertain if a CME was generated. That is a very real and significant danger.

          1. It is also important to know that true Carrington-level events are one-two punches — it takes at least two flare/CME combos to generate a real Carrington. If the first one takes out the observing platforms thanks to x-rays, then we CANNOT see the second one coming.

    2. Every nuke plant keeps at least one in storage (but not shielded storage that I know of).

      A big transformer that is not connected to the grid should be safe, even if not in a shielded room. The danger is from large currents building up over long distances of cabling and overwhelming the wiring in the transformer. The transformer itself shouldn’t build up enough current to damage itself.

    3. My understanding is that they are having single phase transformers built for back-up. It takes three of them to replace one three-phase transformer, but they are small enough to move over the roads, so they can get there much faster.

      1. Don’t know about that on the substation level, but we do bank single-phase overhead transformers. I do know of some single-phased padmounts that were banked, but it wasn’t by us.

  4. When these truly huge induced currents hit things like transformers and circuit breakers and power stations, they can quickly overload them. This, in turn, can (and has) cause(d) blackouts and brownouts, particularly in parts of the country/world where the power grid is not robust enough to handle significant surges. (Given that most large substation transformers are still hand-built, and have a lead time of months between determining need and installation, that could be a real problem.)

    Well, yes and no. Anything that is a conductor will have induced currents, of course. When we talk abut the lights going out, the issue is why. Obviously lights out from damage is a lot different that a tripped breaker. Unfortunately, when talking about this, the media treats it like the “We’re gonna die!” stories you’ve seen about the coronal hole. Right or wrong, I don’t fear “The Big One.” Instead, I fear a whole bunch of little ones.

    Why? We have line protection. Lightning arresters, including spark gap, are on overhead transformers and mounted every few poles. Transformers are fused or have breaker like protection. Power lines are fused and have breakers called reclosers. This means excess voltage is bled off, and over-current devices blow and trip.

    This means these sorts of events can and do cause power outages because over-current protection devices trip. Instability in the grid can cause cascade type outages all the way back to generation. But there’s no infrastructure damage for this sort of outage. Oh, you have to replace blown fuses and coordinate power restoration, but it’s not like replacing transformers.

    Can transformers get popped? Certainly. Even with protection they sometimes do, though the percentage is very low, otherwise every lightning storm would bankrupt a utility. It also says something that in three decades I’ve only personally known three substation transformer failures. Protection devices work very well, even though anything built by mankind is subject to fail.

    That’s why my worry isn’t a “big one” that trips protection devices; it’s the small ones that don’t. These can and do generate DC currents in transformers and can and have damaged them. And then there’s faults that are just about there, but then over-current makes them go. That’s why “thumping” underground line by applying over-voltage and listening for the fault is frowned upon. A bunch of little events followed by a “big one” would probably do more damage than just a “big one”

    So what happens when a substation transformer gets it? Are you completely out of commission until a new one can be built? Not necessarily. The first such incident I was exposed to happened to Brand X. Brand X shipped in another one by truck (and routed it under a low underpass – tall transformers and low underpasses don’t mix). We had to use a mobile substation once. Yes, utilities have such critters, and typically use them to power substations while they do maintenance on a transformer or replace it. Utilities also like to arrange things, if at all possible, where you can direct power from another source. We’ve had to do that, too, before. Not every substation circuit has that capability, but a significant number do.

    That’s on our end. Since any conductor can induce a voltage, remember there’s a service wire running from the transformer to the weather head, and more conductors from there to the breaker box. In most instance there’s nary a surge suppressor to be found in between (well, there’s one in the electric meters but that’s for a meter, and usually a $200 meter will protect $2 worth of parts by blowing first). Nor is there usually one from the panel box to the outlet.

    Sometimes I wonder about electric fences and even regular fencing. Now consider that telegraphs either during the Carrington Event or the preceding CME could operate without the batteries connected. Just saying.

    1. Um, Kevin, I appreciate what you’re saying.

      That said, when — note I said when, not if — we have another Carrington-level event, everything you said will become moot. This will be an event so big that most of those protection devices will be overloaded.

      And of course we have reaction teams and backups to replace out stuff. And they work well when tornadoes hit, or — to a slower extent — when a hurricane or a large earthquake hits.

      But what happens when the whole planet is hit? When there is nowhere outside the range of effects to call upon, to come in and bring backup? When every community is scrambling just to make their own ends start to meet?

      Remember, coronal mass ejections aren’t like localized storms. They ENGULF THE PLANET. Even the mildest ones affect a really large area around the poles. The strong ones have caused many of the major blackouts in recent history, as interconnected grids went down like tenpins. The truly monster ones WILL affect the entire planet.

      1. Another thing to realize is that The Big One(TM) really isn’t ONE. Even the Carrington Event wasn’t a single flare/CME combo. I’ll talk more about that in that installment of this series, but the damage is not done by one really huge event…but by TWO OR MORE. And it DOES happen, because it HAS.

      2. Believe it or not, scale isn’t really an issue, since in the short term it’s all regional. All of it boils down to is the number of substation transformer failures from a Carrington Event. I don’t think there would be many because protective devices operate on events that are impressive, but lower than 1859 estimates. If they operate on that; they’ll operate on Carrington levels.

        The gotcha are smaller events that don’t trigger protective devices. If that sounds like a paradox, think of the latch on your seat belt that lets you lean forward but catches you if there’s a sudden jerk, or that suspension that you can run on, but stand still and you sink. What I think would be the issue is several small events that don’t open protective devices, but induce DC currents within substation transformers. Then a large enough one hits and you have a multiple failures because by then they were close to that point and needed just a little shove.

        Back-to-back high energy level events? Eh. They’d open devices. Sure, you’d likely have planet-wide cascade outages, but that’s going to be from blown line fuses, tripped reclosers, and generation going off-line once it senses instability in the grid. That’s not like what many utilities are going to be faced with right shortly, as we’re about to have physical damage that’s going to require rebuilding lines. Parts of Canada have been through this sort of thing.

        That’s what I’m basing most of this on, and not just what happened in Starfish Prime. That’s where I got induced DC currents doing a number on substation transformers. It’s also where I have a fuzzily remembered incident of similar failures that were not associated with the magnetic poles – maybe in the Southern Hemisphere.

        Now, I could be wrong. I don’t think that I am, but I could be. So here are some questions to ask in regards to the grid and a Carrington Level Event:

        1. How does modern line protection compare to what was on telegraph lines in 1859?

        2. How does the amps and voltage from lightning compare to induced Carrington level voltages?

        3. How many substation transformer failures are experienced each year in the US from lightning?

        4. Of these, how many could be/were routed around?

        5. How many substation transformers are immediately damaged from induced DC currents? How many experience cumulative damage?

        6. Worse come to worse, how long would it take to build a tie-line to back-feed circuits with a bad substation transformer and no alternate feeds? Note that after Hugo utilities often made temporary poles out of green pines.

        Note: The way things look I’ll probably be out of pocket for a while, hopefully just tomorrow, and if we’re lucky just until tomorrow evening. If not, that’ll mean I’m helping get lights back on, not sulled up in a corner with my lip poked out over a disagreement.

        1. According to EEs I’ve talked to about the matter — including several specialists at TVA — the majority of grids will go down per current operational parameters. A substantial percentage of the transformers — upwards of 50%, if not considerably more — are likely to be damaged. Unless things have changed SUBSTANTIALLY in the last ~2yrs, there are not enough ready in storage to come close to beginning to replace them all, and there are not enough people to do it in anything like a timely fashion. And because of the global nature of the event, there is nowhere else from which to pull parts or people, since all those other places are doing the same thing your team is doing.

          And no, not a problem with your going off and working. I split my evening watching a football game and getting a couple thousand more words into the WIP, and came back to half again as many comments as there were the last time I checked! So I get it.

          1. There was a young man at LibertyCon, whose name I cannot recall, who agreed that the grid is not capable of withstanding a Carrington event, nor is it likely to be repaired any time soon if one happens again in the near future.

            I DID bring up that John Ringo’s research indicated that the TVA was more capable of weathering such an event than the rest of the U.S., but that is scant reassurance.

            1. Who wants to bet that the bureaucrats would almost certainly requisition the spares and send them to areas besides the TVA, and then not reimburse the latter?

            2. How hard would our infrastructure be hit, how far back would our civilization be thrown by a Carrington event?

              1. Civilization would be more likely temporarily paralyzed than thrown backward by such an event, but there would be a horrible price paid in violence and deaths from lack of medical availability during the recovery.

                  1. Well, the steel, and even the other metals to some extent, in the structure would protect electronics to some extent from direct effects, with more protection as you go deeper into the structure, but the problem is with the indirect effects of the power surging in along electrical and data cables.

                    1. I think RES is asking about the effects within the structures themselves. But yes, that is in essence how a Faraday cage works, though they are not very GOOD Faraday cages.

                      And if you have the 9-11 images in mind, RES, I don’t think you have to worry about anything like THAT. Having said that, if there are any exposed areas, arcing could occur, I suppose. Flammable materials nearby could be a danger.

                      Again, I’m not an architectural engineer.

                    2. No, no, no 9-11 images in my mind. We all know that steel won”t melt.

                      Simple curiosity is all that plagued me.

                    3. Ah. Architecturally, it’s unlikely to hurt anything, though it could possibly create a detectable temperature increase as the currents cycled through the metals. The structural elements in the building are pretty heavy and short compared to electrical service lines.

                      And as I’ve said before, if you want a Faraday cage for small electronics, unplug your microwave (don’t want to accidentally turn it on) and toss ’em in there, then shut the door.

            3. My research agrees with Ringo’s, and was started in conjunction with, when I was helping him ideate a possible story.

              I’ve spent some hours discussing the matter with Uncle Timmy, who spent his career with TVA. So…yeah. TVA is marginally better equipped to deal with it, and they think they’re in good shape, but…

              1. Anyone know about the DFW grid? I close to the northern border of Dallas. I think that I live in the same city as Amanda.

          2. I’m back. It didn’t get as bad as we feared. For one thing, I didn’t have to dodge tree tops on the way to work,and no, that’s not a joke. We did have half our customers out for maybe ten to fifteen minutes due to a transmission issue, which is pertinent to the discussion at hand: The failure wasn’t repaired in ten to fifteen minutes; transmission was sectionalized around the fault. That was done during the third and last big transformer failure I was privy to, with power restored before we finished connecting back-feeds.

            I don’t doubt for a minute that you’ve talked with EEs. Nor do I doubt for a minute they believe a Carrington event would cause massive transformer failures. Yet EE is a large field, and someone at one end may not be familiar with what’s going on on the other side. I know of an EE who grabbed an energized bus bar in a panel box and wondered why it knocked him flat on his keister. Ours likes to tell of his experiences fresh out of college. Theory is one thing; application another.

            Maybe your EEs are correct. But unless they’ve been involved in field work, I’d apply a good dose of sodium chloride simply because while they probably have theory down cold, they may not be familiar in how it’s applied.

            Part of that is outage response. What we do varies based on the cause of the outage. Another is how the grid is connected. Still another is that there’s examples of these things in real life.

            Now, anyone reading this could comment that I might be in the same boat as the EE who grabbed a live bus bar, and I accept that. But I know what line protection we have out there, have seen it work, have seen it fail, have seen Murphy come by for a visit. I’d have to have some hard data to change my opinion, especially since lightning arrester are designed with, well, lighting in mind. And having seen fuses blow and reclosers trip on three orders of magnitude less than a lightning bolt, I’m really skeptical.

            Where the rubber meets the road is the point where a lightning arrester bleeds off over-voltage and fuses and reclosers operate. I’m sure there’s a chart somewhere from a manufacturer. As a simple observation, a 7,200 v lighting arrester will do it’s thing at 14,400v (have seen that in cutting a line over from 7,2KV to 14.4KV). I’ve worked with fuse and recloser time curves (so that the ones closest to the fault open instead of one further upstream), and know this varies. You may see some discussion about how quickly an metal oxide lightning and spark gap lightning arresters operate in regards to Carrington level voltages and currents, but when you realize there’s also that delay with lightning, it sort of makes it a wash.

            Yes, I know that field level and induced current are going to depend on where the equipment is located and ground resistance (and this is why that hazily remembered event raised eyebrows because it didn’t match what was understood at the time). But there still should be an overlap, and comparing induced voltages to the operating characteristics of line protection devices is going tell the story.

            Here’s what it boils down to: If a Carrington level event induces voltages and currents greater than is required to trigger protection devices, then you have outages but little to no damage to infrastructure. If a Carrington level event induces voltages and currents lower than where the protection devices trip, then it’s trouble.

            Know that Canadian power companies have lines trip out with less than Carrington level events without routinely frying transformers. And know that it takes a certain amount of time from a transformer hot spot to break down winding insulation. The interesting thing, in a Chinese curse sort of way, is where induced currents don’t trip devices. And that’s what’s caused transformer failures from this sort of thing. From what I recall, it usually takes more than one.

            A sidebar on capabilities: Know that there’s a thing called distributed generation. Some of these are great big diesel generators used as peaking stations. Think semi-trailer big. Power is stepped up and put on the substation. There’s special protection if it goes up through transmission, but if transmission isn’t working, there’s nothing to prevent powering the substation itself. The installations I’ve seen and worked on use large commercial transformers to step up current, the sort of thing a utility usually has on the yard. There’s also rental rigs – that’s my experience – pulled to site by transfer truck. Also know there’s an instance in the US of using diesel electric locomotive to provide emergency grid power.

            The latter ranks up there with using green pines for temporary poles after Hugo. All sorts of things can and have been done, which the general public isn’t aware.

            I doubt any of this has changed minds on the effect of the Carrington event and the grid, but it’s some things to mull over.

            1. What can you tell us about the history of line protection? I’m specifically interested in a twenty years ago scenario, but when would you say that line protection got fairly robust? Can you forecast much in the way of improvements in the future?

              I understand that they plan to run a lot more line for solar and wind. Would this increase vulnerability much?

              1. I don’t know the history. All I know is what was there thirty+ years ago, what’s there now, and metal oxide arresters have practically taken over from spark gap. I know of a pole, circa 1930s, that has an old spark gap arrester, and they’re on overhead transformers – and wasps and hornets flying through the gap will cause blinks.

                Really, System Control and Data Acquisition wasn’t new thirty years ago, nor was the capability to switch lines remotely. Even though there’s fiber optic isolation now (there’s a lovely scorch mark in a cabinet at work where pre-fiber optic tech encountered line voltage), I’m assuming that communications would fail during a Carrington event, for no other reason than solid state electronics are more sensitive than older tech. My assumption may not be valid, but should communications fail, it’s back to manual operation, which never went away, but is more time consuming, because someone has to ride out and do it.

                Keep in mind I’m old enough that I might not grok where things are going. The so-called smart meters has improved things like returning voltage information, but other than switching, which is old tech, I can’t think of anything new in grid operation. I anticipate drones to be used in inspection because it’s cheaper than a bucket truck and quicker than climbing with hooks, but that’s all.

                On wind and solar, the problem is back-up power and grid instability. It was enough to cause a black-out in Europe as things tanked right when they took a section of transmission line out of service. When generation senses instability, it trips protection devices to prevent equipment damage, and goes off-line.

                The only installations I’m familiar with are on our system, and we require equipment to disconnect it from the grid if it senses no power on our end. We had that the time we ran distributed generation, so I know it’s common. Whether it’s always used, I can’t say. I would think that it is, but have no concrete data.

                Solar hasn’t caused us problems. That said, the US lessened frequency requirements on the grid to make it easier for solar, and I don’t know of anyone happy about that.

          3. Okay, I’m getting obsessed with this because it’s a numbers issue and should have strong, if not hard, damage/no damage parameters. Right now I think I’m blinking at the obvious: the electric field will have to be in flux to induce a current. Even radio is a field in flux. That alone would be several sorts of neato. But I’m to the second guessing stage and wondering if some other critter is at play here. Obviously it does induce current, so that’s not the question. Mostly it’s the question of whether it’s induced by an electric field in flux, or if something exotic is going on.

            1. I haven’t even done back of the envelope, and I’m about out of spoons for the night.

              If the CME has a large volume, slow speed, and is not uniformly distributed, it would seem to fit the criteria you give for being dangerous. You mention low voltages as being more a concern than an extended period of high voltage.

              The leading edge of the CME might well be small enough for those low induced voltage. It could be in chunks, that might cause the small damage you say would be important for the big voltages to cause any real damage.

              I do not know if the 19th century data captured any real profile of the induced voltage over time. If the CME, or series of CME, has a different mass distribution, the voltage profile might be different.

              I dunno.

              1. A post will go up on my blog about midnight on trying to prove myself wrong about a Carrington Event. In the meantime, I have come across interesting info on telegraph lightning arresters, circa 1859. Judging from patents, some primitive tech existed, but it was usually spark gap at the telegraph office, with tin on the walls behind the switch board to help prevent a direct hit from burning things down. Odds favor there was nothing bleeding off GIC between stations. No wonder sparks literally flew.

            2. Nit – that would be a magnetic field in flux, rather than an electric one.

              Your comments have gotten me to thinking about some questions, though – how far apart is surge protection on the high tension lines? And how far apart was such protection (if there even WAS any) on telegraph wires?

              1. Not necessarily a nit: I’m honestly wondering about an electric field, though you do get fluctuating magnetic fields in a solar event.

                I feel like I’m hijacking a thread, so I’m thinking about posting in-depth on my blog. For one thing, I’m approaching this from the angle that I’m wrong and looking for hard numbers to prove it.

                BTW, all this is under the heading of Geomagnetic Induced Current, or GIC.

                Will comment that I’m thinking about our experience with three-wire Delta and underground. Three-wire Delta service isn’t referenced to ground, unless it’s corner grounded, and you can get high voltages trying to measure from phase to ground. Think 1,000v+. We started to wonder if this was accelerating “treeing” in direct burial cable. Treeing is where the insulation starts to break down. When you look at a cross-section of the insulation, it looks like a tree. Anyway, we also had direct burial grounded service go bad in that same time-frame, so it could have been an insulation issue and not due to the unreferenced to ground voltages. Nor did we see more transformer failures,at least it didn’t seem like it. It’s still something to think about.

      3. I’m not an engineer, (well, I was trained as one, but I graduated almost 30 years ago,) but only a programmer with delusions of adequacy. I’ve been thinking about it, and there are things I don’t understand about why you think another “Carrington event” will be so dangerous.

        From the descriptions of the phenomena, it sounds like voltages in the hundreds of volts were induced in the telegraph lines. Now, if you need tens of kilometers of line (such as I would expect to be the typical distance between telegraph stations) to induce hundreds of volts, that means you’re inducing a few millivolts per meter. The power grid, or so I am given to understand, is built to withstand conditions where a few tens of kilovolts per meter is induced, because that’s the sort of surge you get from lightning strikes.

        Now, considering that the basic circuit protection element (the fuse) was not invented until 20 years after the “Carrington Event”, it would seem that the telegraph lines were completely unprotected by any mechanism at all and that led to what damage that happened.

        In other words, I don’t understand why the circuit protection elements, elements which are specifically designed to deal with surges six times the magnitude of any likely from a CME impacting earth would utterly fail to do their job.

    2. I don’t fear “The Big One.”

      I am reminded of the debate about NATO deployment of (cruise missiles?) back in the Eighties, when prominent anti-nuke politicians in Britain openly fretted about becoming Ground Zero in the event of war. My reaction then and now is that if such a thing happens, Ground Zero is EXACTLY where you want to be. Better a quick and relatively painless death than the long long decline of a post-holocaust world.

      A Carrington Event will — as our world is presently configured — offer pretty much the same option: die fast or die slow, but we ARE all gonna die.

      Of course, we already know we’re all going to die anyway, so we ought plan on doing it with panache.

      1. No, we aren’t. This is NOT an extinction-level event, or we wouldn’t be here right now. The Carrington Event was a perfect solar/space storm, yet we survived it.

        What may NOT survive is our current infrastructure as we know it, unless we pay attention and do what it takes to PROTECT that infrastructure.

        That said, large modern cities may have some very serious problems with food supplies, etc. but as long as they stay calm and don’t riot, I think even that might be fixable.

        1. Please revisit my escape clause: “as our world is presently configured”.

          As for your escape clause, “as long as they stay calm and don’t riot” …

          I am not configuring my Bug Out kit on that expectation.

          1. “A Carrington Event will — as our world is presently configured — offer pretty much the same option: die fast or die slow, but we ARE all gonna die.”

            NOT from a Carrington Event.

            1. The civilization may take a hit, the infrastructure may crap out. The population, in the main, should survive, provided they play it smart.

              And yes, I know. “A PERSON is smart. PEOPLE are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.”

              1. I am looking at the candidates in the currentU+273c presidential race. I have NO expectation of the population playing it smart.

                U+273c Oops.

                  1. Also that what deaths there may be will probably occur in major cities, and not in rural areas, and NONE of them will be as a DIRECT result of the CME impact, only due to secondary, tertiary, etc. effects.

                    1. In the long run we all die of something. It’s just how you will die that no one knows. With God’s help we will weather all storms as best as we can.
                      OT: Steve is going in for cataract surgeries (both eyes) this month.

        2. If we lose automotive transit and the ability to generate electricity, I think that things will get real bad, real fast. I am basing this on the “everybody knows” idea that our current civilization is electricity, and long distance transport dependent.

      2. Dang you, I have now media echos haunting my brain. The two most distinct are Randy Newman’s Political Science and the opening episode of James Burke’s brilliant original series of Connections. Sigh.

  5. So the side toward the Sun has a “bow shock” and is compressed, and the side away from the Sun is stretched out into a tail.

    So less of a magnetosphere and more of a magnetocarp?

    1. The tri-parks (historical, botanical gardens and bog gardens) in which I walk for exercise have been invaded recently by persons pursuing the latest craze in gaming. I must ask: is a magnetocarp in any way related to magicarp – and if you obtain a hundred will they get upgraded to a dragon?

  6. usually a $200 meter will protect $2 worth of parts by blowing first
    A phenomenon familiar to owners of old British Cars. They don’t call Lucas Electrics the Prince of Darkness for nothing.

    I’m working on a backup power system for refrigeration. We’re at the wrong end of the power distribution lines, and have had occasional multi-hour outages. When the new pumphouse is built (long story), it will be offgrid, powered by the twin of the solar system that’s in the backup-under-construction.

    1. I knew a number of MG owners back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. They liked to tell this joke:

      Why do the British drink warm beer?

      Because their refrigerators are built by Lucas!

      1. I’m trying to keep the runs short. Backup power to house will be 50 feet. DC lines from the PV array to the pumphouse will be similar; probably 50 foot loops. No really long runs. The backup system can have the inverter de-energized until it’s needed, but the pumphouse will run all the time.

        The bit if history I could find said the telegraph system was running on induced current (ie, without batteries) for a couple of hours at the peak. Oh my!

        1. Yes, it was. We’ll talk more about this in that segment of the series, but the telegraph system — which was basically all the long-distance infrastructure they had at the time — experienced some serious effects. Batteries blew, telegraphers experienced severe shocks, sparks flew, “flimsy” paper caught fire, telegraph offices burned down, and there were some unsubstantiated reports of telegraph POLES burning down.

          That said, soon the telegraphers found that the system was operational despite their having no batteries to run with, because there was so much induced current in the system to work with.

          1. I can think of several things that would burn a pole down – tracking or cracked insulators are one. I know of one pole that burned because someone accidentally nailed a staple through the “floating” high-side delta bank wires.

            1. Oh, I’m not saying that it couldn’t happen at all. Most certainly it could, and I’m sure it DID, for there were statements to the effect. I’m just saying that none of the reports I found could be substantiated. There was no, “Pole #27, between Charing Cross and Covent Garden, was reported to have burned down. Charles Johnson reported it to the nearest telegraph station…” kind of thing.

    2. When we first moved into the house where we presently live we noticed that our then neighbor tooled around in a red Miata convertable with a licence plate that read: NO LUCAS.

    3. Lucas had at least two different titles, depending on whether it was working or not at the time. An alternate being “Prince of Insufficient Illumination”, well known to owners of old British autos driving at night.

  7. Oh, an interesting tidbit of information: Several sources are indicating that the cosmic ray influx is increasing.

    Now, cosmic rays are coming in from outside our solar system. Mostly they are particulates, very high-energy charged particles produced in the various high-energy astronomical objects out there. They are very penetrating, and potentially dangerous to life, at least in large quantities. (Not that we are likely to get those large quantities; my point is simply that they ain’t good for ya.)

    Normally the solar wind, coupled with the enhanced wind streams from coronas, and CMEs, create enough of a “resisting” effect to keep the cosmic ray flux at Earth fairly low. That said, this means that there is a variation in cosmic ray flux from solar max to solar min.

    But 1) we’re only about 2 years out from solar max. We should be 4-5 years away from solar min. 2) If we are indeed going into an extended minimum, then chances are the cosmic ray flux will be higher than at a “simple” solar min.

    Just something to watch.

    1. Hmmmm … does that mean we ought be on watch for surprising developments of super-human powers? Fantastic!

        1. And just think — you wouldn’t even have to go into space to do it!

          Then again, I’m not sure that any of those powers were ones to be envied, necessarily, given the down sides.

          1. There are jokes about the real reason Reed Richards is known as “Mr. Fantastic” but Larry Niven’s beaten me to them.

                1. Oh dear. Yes that was horrible.

                  But it was not horrible enough for you to introduce the practice of self-denunciation into our midst.

                1. We had wondered, woman.

                  It would be terrible for such jests to flash and disappear for you are the Dr. Fate has decreed shall spread super puns like a red tornado of jokes. It would be a shame if the effort lasted less than an hour, man, or vanished like the atoms of tomorrow’s legends.

      1. I also understand that cosmic rays induce cloud formation in the high atmosphere (water molecules are attracted to charged particles). Now, this may be a wash, reflects more light in the day time; traps more light/heat at night.

        1. Yes, and yes. We know that it creates nuclei for cloud formation, effectively seeding the atmosphere. Normally this would form very high clouds (and again, we’ll talk more in a later installment), but as more and more cosmic rays get in, that altitude is almost certainly going to get lower and lower.

          But we don’t know what kind of temperature effects this produces, true, because there is a tradeoff between albedo (reflectance) and IR emission, but we don’t know the relationship. Yet.

          1. This may be a very stupid question, but, would induced current electrocute people out in the open?

            1. No reports of spontaneous electrocution in the Carrington Event, though some spectacular problems showed up.

              As best as I can tell, you would need a long chunk of wire to be at risk. I’m having a hard time figuring out how long is “too long”, but most of the scary numbers seem to be referring to line lengths of tens to hundreds of miles. The closest I can come up with is the Carrington Event telegraph story, where Boston to Portland Maine stayed in operation from induced current. That’s 110 miles, and I’m guessing a few amps. Doing a SWAG extrapolation, I’d say a 100 foot power cord wouldn’t hurt (might feel something), but I wouldn’t try to hook up a multi-thousand foot electric fence…

              1. ^This. Pretty much alla this.

                I COULD go off and try to calculate the induced current, but that facet of my EM theory is awfully rusty these days. Nevertheless, if desired, I can try to run a back-of-the-envelope rough calculation. But not unless someone specifically asks. And please don’t ask just to see if I can. I’m in the middle of a novel and the writing is really flowing and I’d rather not derail it if I can help it.

                1. Agreed. My EM theory is rusty, not that it was really great to begin with…

                  Further complicating matters, it sounds like the effects of the Earth (magnetic field orientations and subsurface makeup) will cause variations. Specifically, it sounds like Location A to B of length X won’t necessarily give you the same currents for locations C to D, also of length X.

          2. And here we cross over fully from solar physics to the FORBIDDEN ZONE OF CLIMATE!!!! Basically if our star’s solar output drop causes the Earth’s magnetic field to expand and thus weaken, letting more Cosmic Rays through so they can do their particle-cascade thing in the atmosphere, and as a result more clouds form, starting higher up where they are ice crystals (less reflect-y) and then getting lower where they’re water vapor (more reflect-y), the reflection back into space by those clouds of the available solar input will cause things at the surface to get colder.

            So as long as we’re stuck on this planet, the only thing we can in good conscience do to save human civilization is start pumping really effective greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere to try and offset that deadly cooling. Not CO2, that doesn’t work – we need to inject stuff like methane and water vapor, and I recall it would be better if it were injected a bit higher up. For the children.

            1. So as long as we’re stuck on this planet, the only thing we can in good conscience do to save human civilization is …

              It seems quite clear from the AGW Climate Change Alarmists that the only acceptable way to save human civilization is to destroy it.

  8. Those long pipelines, are there any risks other than leaks from the induced currents? Because that one, that’s across the street and up the hill. And it’s close across the street and up the hill–like within 500′.

    I didn’t have that on my disaster prep list at all. Didn’t even think about it. (Our propane tank, blizzards, wildfires, trains, interstate, Yellowstone and Craters . . .) And it’s right there, in plain sight. Well, buried, but you can see the bulge, so it’s not very buried.

    1. Well, I guess it depends. One of the other dangers of powerful induced currents like that is serious electrical arcing. So I suppose it depends on what the pipeline is carrying and how much it has leaked, and how much the leaked contents have access to oxygen. Obviously water isn’t likely to be a problem except in that it is itself a conductor, so it could be kinda like downed power lines lying in a puddle. But if it is petroleum, there could be the potential for ignition. Even more so, natural gas.

      1. Pretty sure it’s the one on the natural gas map you included. It wasn’t affected by the wildfire a mile away a few years ago, so wouldn’t have been leaking then and there. State website has basically the same map, but at least I have the pipeline name now. (I’ll confirm with the neighbor whose property it runs across next I see her or her son or grandson.)

        So fire and/or explosion. *hits duck duck go* Good grief. Thank goodness we don’t have any windows on that side. I guess.

        Thanks for the heads-up, Stephanie.

      2. I have a dim memory that the Alaska Pipeline is grounded. A check turned out that the anodes used act like grounding rods to bleed off induced currents. Other pipelines? Don’t know. If they have sacrificial anode rods, possibly.

        1. The fact that they are in aurora country means that that pipeline gets an abnormally high opportunity to experience these effects. Now, they may have gone back and retrofitted grounds, but it was experiencing sufficient induced current in its early phases of lifetime to increase the oxidation rates rather significantly. Consequently the lifetime between repairs was substantially shortened. They were getting failed welds, rusted out areas, leaks…

    2. Lessee… across the street I have railroad tracks, oil pipeline, and gas pipeline. Upwind I have Yellowstone; just down the hill, flood plain; across the river, the oil refinery. I think I’m covered for most of the potential inland disasters. 😉

  9. if the people of Galveston had had weather satellites in 1900, the city could have been evacuated well before it got hit

    Subjunctive case being important here because, as multiple incidents have demonstrated, what could have been done and what actually gets done are often quite dissimilar.

    1. I still remember the news about an impending hurricane — some time back since it was hitting Florida — and the picture of a high-way bumper to bumper on one side and empty on the other. Some would have evacuated.

      1. Speaking of which, anyone who’d going to be heading into an evacuation should carry water with them. I know of a doctor who got caught in a evacuation for a hurricane, and wasn’t able to take an exit for hours. By the time he could, he recognized he had symptoms of dehydration.

      2. That surprises me. Usually when they do an evac like that, they close all the ramps going into the area being evacuated, and open up both sides of the interstate to outbound traffic. My husband was in south central Florida on a business trip and had to evac out. He was supposed to fly, but the airport was closed and flights canceled, so they got him a rental car and he drove out. I was shocked at how fast he got home, because he DID grab snacks & bottled water before he left, made sure the tank was filled up, and then just drove at speed — and nobody stops you for speeding, either. The faster you can clear the area, the better they like it. What normally would have taken about 12 hours to drive took him about 7-8.

  10. Ref the effects of CMEs on the atmosphere, book I read some years back, Flare(Roger Zelazny and Thomas T. Thomas), was about the sun waking back up after a very long minimum, and the effects the flares and CMEs have. Good read.

    1. I read that one, too. Had they but known, Earth would have probably been in an ice age after that long of a minimum, but still an interesting read (for those who haven’t read it, it’s not a spoiler to explain that the sun had been quiet for so long that solar flares were considered a myth – something over 50 years, but less than 100, IIRC).

        1. …for it to degenerate to “nothing but a myth,” I mean. After all, we have databases and records. And there are also means of extrapolating in the absence of manmade records, too.

          1. It would rather depend upon how our media cover it, wouldn’t it? Their reporting on science is abysmal already without a conspiratorial effort. Just why they would want to suppress such knowledge is left as an exercise for the author.

            1. Something like a WWIII with EMP attacks or the like might do it. But just to be forgotten while the world went merrily on its way? I seriously doubt it. Because as Wayne says below, there’s still gonna be people like me studying and watching.

              1. Yeah, but you are a crank and an alarmist and a right-winger and besides, the Science Is Settled! The MSM can manufacture produce an endless supply of experts to point out the flaws and errors and wild-eyed suppositions in your claims and if you actually knew what you were talking about you’d be getting government grants to study that.

                CUE: Argument of the Lady in the Green Kyrtle.

                Look at how they’ve turned around any number of arguments on issues such as transgender, single-parent households, or Christian doctrine.

              2. We have evidence of stellar study as far back as ancient Egypt. Assuming that events or practices in the Bible are true. That’s a personal axiom of mine.

          1. I think we have a continuous record by western civilization from the early 1600’s to present. The Chinese have some records back to 800BC.
            For 100 years to be enough to forget them, would require a pretty cataclysmic disturbance (perhaps Yellowstone erupting or Global Thermonuclear War?).

      1. IIRC, it was not so much a myth as something nobody bothered to worry about anymore. Lazy and cheap has been the human default for such a long time that I found it quite plausible.

          1. Again IIRC (it’s been a while) the *scientists* hadn’t written it off. In fact, one of the major characters was an astronomer studying the sun from a station in low solar orbit. His was one of the twother arcs in the book where someone was more or less prepared to deal with the new reality.

            Everyone else was getting into serious trouble because nobody was wasting money protecting their equipment from terrible dangers nobody *else* was worrying about. Like earthquake-proof buildings in the Mississippi Valley…

              1. What, near New Madrid, MO? Or between there and Memphis, say?

                Grew up outside Clarksville TN. Every time the New Madrid went off, we knew it. Couple times we were rockin’ an’ rollin’. Most times we’d just suddenly stop and look at each other, as if to say, “Did you feel something?” Then we’d all look up and the hanging lamp would be swaying. Or the water in the glasses had waves.

                  1. Nearest one is the Balcones fault near Austin.

                    Comanche Peak is located in one of the two seismic zone 0’s in the USA

                    1. The Balcones fault has not cut loose in several million years, but you’d probably feel it if it ever did.

                      Comanche Peak nuke plant is located in Somervell County near the small town of Glen Rose. It is also near Granbury. About 45 miles SW of Ft. Worth.

                    2. It has been claimed that some of the Oklahoma earthquakes suggest that what we know about seismic activity isn’t the full picture.

                    3. Emily, if you felt rocking and rolling this AM it was the Pawnee OK earthquake. I felt it in Amarillo, and I’ve read reports of shaking and light-fixtures moving in Lubbock.

                1. I grew up in Carroll County (near Jackson). I remember a shake or two. But how many buildings in Memphis are ready, d’ya think?

            1. “…an astronomer studying the sun from a station in low solar orbit.”

              Oooo, now THERE is a really bad place to be in a Carrington event, especially if you’re in the path of the damn thing.

              1. On the other hand, his station was basically the only thing in the solar system that had halfway adequate shielding and heavy-duty magnetic particle defenses, among other things. He’d gotten flak for the paranoid precautions he’d taken, I believe.

                The rest of the book was about airliners and maglev trains getting EMP’d, stations in *low* (cheap) LEO wondering why their orbits were decaying, etc.

    1. It was a facebook satellite on board. Shall we go with conspiracy or karma? There are so many possibilities with the former . . . probably the aliens are sick and tired of stupid election memes on facebook.

      1. My first guess is that it is Trump’s Fault™. If Trump loses the election it will be Paul Ryan’s Fault for All Bad Things™ occurring in the next four years. If Trump wins the election it will be his fault anything “bad” happens for twenty years to come.

            1. It’s the evil Republicans’ fault: had Jeb won, they could have safely continued blaming Bush without having to do more than change dates. Now they have to change names as well!

      2. Wanna throw in some fodder for conspiracy? It wasn’t a Facebook satellite. It was an Israeli satellite that Facebook intended to use. According to the CNN report, “Facebook is in a partnership with French satellite firm Eutelsat Communications. The satellite, called Amos 6, was owned by Israeli company Spacecom.”

        (Mind, just because a conspiracy theory is invoked doesn’t make it automatically wrong, either.)

        1. There’s a good book on this topic (hi-tech in Israel) called Start-Up Nation. If some of the Arab nations would work with Israel instead of against her, they’d all do much better. It’s more likely to rain lemonade than for them to work with Israel.

          1. Depends on your Arabs, and depends on what they’re cooperating about.
            The Saudis won’t cooperate unless it involves Iran and possibly ISIS; the Jordanians will cooperate on just about anything; the Lebanese are incohesive enough that they can’t cooperate; and the Egyptians will cooperate on anything involving Islamic extremism, but nothing else.

          1. And probably is, Emily. I’ve had some people over on Faceplant try to argue that there was something “weird” about it. But no. This sort of thing happens not infrequently, especially to new space programs even in the modern day, and especially when testing out new rocket designs. And the SpaceX design is certainly different in many respects from what we’ve done before. Not that we couldn’t have; but generally when you have developed a functional design, you run with it as far as you can.

            Unfortunately, I strongly suspect that this will put a significant delay on man-rating it.

            1. It’s a rocket. However much explosive material it takes to get the payload out of the gravity well. Just did the explosion at the wrong time and angle.
              The only point to speculating without evidence is to be silly and spin off crazy plot ideas.
              But then, my 12 and 13 year old sons and their friends and cousins formed the Illuminati this summer. My tolerence for implausible silliness may be higher than most . . . *Looks around* well, not higher than the average here! (I am actually pretty sure there is a great YA book in this idea of “we’re bored, let’s pick a conspiracy theory and become it” if anyone wants to write it.)

              1. No thanks. I got jumped by a Rada and Zabet story this AM that would tie into something I’ve left unfinished, and . . . nag dabbit, I have to get more of the Raj book done! And work done.

                1. Sorta kinda happened to me and a friend at a con once. We showed up in MIB costumes, only to find that a LARP was under way that actually involved MIB characters…which all the players thought was US.

                  Wow, did we throw some monkey wrenches into THAT game.

  11. Dang, guys! I go off to do a little writing, slam a few thousand words into the WIP and maybe watch some of the college football where my nephew is playing, and I come back a few hours later and the comments have gone up by around 40-50! I can’t blink around here, can I?

    1. OK – My bad – I thought I had entered everything properly to attach this to Wayne’s enlightened decision not to practice further self-denunciation.

      Posner continues a moron. AN is a twit. General Francisco Franco remains dead.

  12. Stephanie, you cannot imagine what a relief it is to find a scientist talking about actual science in a world that still has Michael Mann and Bill Nye the “Science” Guy in it.

  13. Pardon my tardiness….
    Any idea what a CME hitting the earth would do to a beanstalk? (For some reason I have this image of a lightning rod in my head.)

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