Nerd Files: Sun Spots, Space Weather, and the next apocalypse…

This is a nerd rant. It had to happen. I couldn’t go on pretending that my life hadn’t been drastically transformed by an astronomy class I took last semester… Okay so maybe drastically transformed isn’t quite the phrase I was looking for, but you get the point. This is my blog, what else do I do but rant? You don’t have to read it. But you’ll be smarter if you do. 
I have found a new passion. You know that moment in the middle of astronomy where you literally cannot stop “oohing” and “aaaaaing” out loud. The moment where you are so completely astounded by the wonders you are studying that you just want to run outside and scream ” The universe is SO extremely amazing and NOBODY knows it… Unless they have studied astronomy and EVERYBODY NEEDS TO STUDY ASTRONOMY!”
Now let’s assume that you have all had that kind of a moment, so that I don’t have to feel so completely weird again. 
So I signed up for this shmancy meteorologist website. Hundreds of totally free professional courses on all things weather. Of course the bulk of the courses are on topics like “reading radio graphs in the south pacific” or “advanced fire storm prediction tables”… maybe not all that applicable to the average Joe Shmo. But they’ve got some gems. 
When I signed up I had to pick a party affiliation. NAAP or SVE or National Weather Office or GHFI. ( blah blah blah) 
As I scrolled down association after association I began to worry that I wasn’t qualified to sign up for my free account. Until I found the affiliation that fit. It’s official:

I am a weather enthusiast. Add that to my resume. 
Now for a public service announcement:
He who as Internet let him hear – You shall go sign up and participate in a one hour introduction to space weather course. You will thank me if you do. It is amazing. You will be the better for it. 
You don’t want to spend an hour studying space weather? I am appalled. Absolutely appalled. Okay, just watch this three-minute video to get moderately caught up. It’s only three minutes:
Now that we have that established, we can move on. What happens when those loverly CME’s burst the equivalent of millions of atom bombs worth of energy straight at the earth at roughly one million miles per an hour? I mean we are talking enough energy to sustain all the needs of the entire United States of America for a 100,000+ years. That is a lot of energy. Why in the world aren’t we obliterated? 
Well we’ve got our magnetosphere:
Which basically takes all that solar “stuff” on a little journey around the globe and back again. As it comes back it crosses the tops of the magnetic poles. Thus the aurora borealis or northern lights:
That is solar wind reacting to elements in our atmosphere. It’s like a dance ( or a war, whichever way you’d like to look at it ) between extra charged electrons from the sun and our atmosphere. Cool. Yah! 
So while we stay mainly protected from the large burst of energy our lovely sun sends out at us, we cannot help but be slightly affected. Geomagnetic storms are what we call these disturbances in our magnetosphere, and they can effect us in oodles of intriguing ways:
1. Broken satellites: 

Imagine you were a satellite. If a burst of solar wind ( highly charged particles) hit you from every direction, your sensors might be overused and burnt out. Or worse, you could even be hurled back to the earth.
      Scientists need to know when the storms are coming so they can prepare satellites by turning them off so as not to overload sensors. Of course a major storm can do major damage, such as totally demolishing satellites ( it has happened). Can you imagine what would happen if an enormous geomagnetic storm hit and burned all the satellites. Are you aware of how much we use satellites in our daily lives: cell phone times, telecommunications, television, scientific research, GPS navigation systems ( for private and large scale government use), etc… The list is almost endless and rather interesting to contemplate.
2. Excess Radiation:
Extra radiation high up in the atmosphere might not affect all of us, but astronauts to have to be careful and warned before going on space walks. Even some cross-ocean flights are re-routed ( since many of these types of flights fly over the poles to save time). 
3. Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis:

Probably the most beautiful of all the “problems” magnetic storms can cause. It is my dream to see the lights. How beautiful and artistic they are! In a few decades I might be asking:
“Honey, I know where I want to go for our 25th anniversary!” 
“Camping on the Alaskan Tundra… Maybe even in an igloo!” 
“But we went to Antarctica for our honeymoon, don’t you have any…warmer ideas?”
4. Burned out Power Grids:

Sometimes power grids are so over charged that they totally break down. An example of this was in Quebec in the mid 19th century. Millions of people lost their power! Scary? Cool. 
Just think about it. Once in the mid 19th century there was a geomagnetic storm so large that men in South Carolina got up for work at 3am, thinking it was day. People all around the world had an amazing opportunity to see the aurora- almost all the way to the Ecuador. The only major problem were hit telegraph lines causing a few fires.
Think of what would happen if a storm of that scale hit us today! With all our reliance on Internet, GPS, electric lights, T.V. etc.. 
Okay, don’t get scared. The chances are very very small. But we could have a total blackout! One more reason to learn basic arithmetic, keep a physical book library, and stay off that GPS. The whole idea intrigues me immensely. 
Did you know there is such a thing as a Space Weatherman? Space weather tries to find ways to predict storms earlier and earlier so that we have more time to react. As it is, we can only see them coming when they are less then a million miles away. Which means we only have about 10 minutes to prepare ourselves. 
I want to met a space weatherman someday. I’m adding that to the bucket list. I think they all live in Colorado somewhere. 
Enough with the rantage. Hopefully now you can sympathize a little bit more with my CME’s of excitement at the mention of the sun. Because while the rest of the world goes gaga over:
I’m watching this…

Like WOAh.
Leave me a comment if you finish the entire diatribe. You’ll get a prize… like brownie points on my mental checklist, or something like that…

Author: Susanna

I'm Susanna, a 20-year-old Christian girl incorrigibly addicted spontaneous adventures. My first dream was to become a pioneer. Unfortunately, I was born a couple centuries late, so I've decided to read, cook, run, and travel the world until my time machine is finished. You'll mostly likely find me getting into trouble and/or eating licorice. I am currently blogging the misadventures of a middle-school teacher in training. Come join me on my quest to become the next Ms. Frizzle!

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