Solar Max - could Free Energy trip us up?
Solar Max comes and goes like the tide and we are approaching the cusp of a solar activity "high tide." Arriving a little later than the originally anticipated 2012, Max has been building gently over the last few years and is predicted to peak around May 2013. From there it will likely decline again gradually until it bottoms out by 2019 and then steadily rise again. Not the most forceful Max we have experienced to date but then my impression is that large solar events don't care much for seasons nor cycles.
I recall a slideshow at the PeriScope Theatre in Pringle Bay in 2011 which was titled "Unless you make 2012 go BANG it is not going to go BANG". And so it has been. 2012 has come and gone and the sun has been kind - no BANG! Is it all over now? Your guess is as good as mine and what follows is what my mind ponders and an introduction to a unique tool according to which I keep myself informed.
Of all things that could happen in South Africa as a result of exceptionally energetic conditions on the sun, the one I consider worst is the potential for power outages. The others are simply inconveniences. Inconveniences since their duration and impact seem feeble relative to the effects of damage to the local power grid.
The solar Halloween storm of October 2003 set a benchmark. It occurred some two years after the previous Solar Max and the damages to some of the ESKOM grid components are well documented. As such it appears that we already have at least one practical measure of our present exposure to adverse solar activity.
What would the character of power outages be should todays grid suffer the same damages as it did in 2003? Since the demands on the grid were different back in 2003 you may not have noticed much then, however you know all about grid capacity today. As can be seen on TV - it must frequently be running close to 100%.
The effect the Halloween storm had in mid latitude areas such as South Africa took many by surprise. Stormy space weather seemed more the domain of countries in polar regions like Siberia, Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland, Canada and Alaska in the north and mainly Antarctica in the south. But South Africa languishes up into to the early 30's and hence in classic mid-latitude terrain. Notwithstanding its latitude, some grid transformers sustained permanent damage and others were degraded during the Halloween storm. Besides the fabulous prices of new transformers, the more fantastic aspect is that the delivery period of new units is in the order of one year! This extensive delay coupled with the substantial grid loading at present provides a different flavor to possible power outages. It suddenly feels they could be longer. Much longer. Could they?
The question remains as it was. If the same amount of transformers were to be permanently damaged vis-a-vis the situation in 2003, what effect would be felt by the electricity consumer today? Would the supply remain continuous or become intermittent. And for how long would this continue? This is a fascinating part of history which I participate in experiencing by tuning into the space weather events and the effect on Earth. Magnetic fields pervade the cosmos and they act as excellent antennae to sense cosmic events which have an electrical aura. Sensing the field in various locations gives a feel for the overall energy flow. Electrical grids - it turns out - are massive sensing antennae for such energy flow and occasionally receive too much power and certain elements break down. Free Energy does not always manifest were you would like it most.
Bang! - imagine a large gunpowder bomb exploding. From a safe vantage point one would first see the flash of the explosion and a little later the shrapnel comes flying by. Solar flares are akin to the flash and the shrapnel to the matter which is blasted off the surface of the sun. And since the sun is a fair way away the delay in arrival of the two is in the order of 1 to 2 days depending on the size of the event. The flare is recorded in nearby Earth space within 8 minutes as X-ray radiation and the charged matter arrives days later. None of the radiation in the X-ray frequency band penetrates to ground level and not all flares blast large amounts of matter off the sun. Those who do, have to occur in a specific region of the sun otherwise the bits and pieces that have been expelled by the event simply miss us here on Earth.
But it is in the 1 to 2 days delay that many opportunities for adventure are created. For one - you know it is coming once you have observed the right sized flash from the right spot on the sun. Predicting the exact arrival time has parrallels in terrestrial weather forecasting such as timing the arrival of frontal weather in Cape Town. Different things are at stake however.
There are very few probes along the 150 million kilometers from the sun to the Earth and some of the data we will be looking at comes from probes at 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. An important satellite in that region is an old NOAA workhorse appropriately called ACE. Once observed there it takes 30 to 45 minutes to sensing the effect on Earth and the possibility of solar energy coupling into terrestrial grid systems.
Join me in following the events as they unfold: CiAO Space Weather Snapshot
In memory of Max Kretzmer.