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Only 12-hours' warning if crippling solar storm hits

Thursday, July 30, 2015, 09:05 GMT -

Power loss, aviation disruption and satellite problems, that’s what could happen if a “Coronal Mass Ejection” from the sun headed towards Earth. And to make it worse, we may only get 12 hours to prepare for all this!

This is according to the government’s Space Weather Preparedness Strategy, which sets out the nature of the risk to the UK from severe space weather.

Space weather particularly affects technology. It results from solar activity, which can produce x-rays, high energy particles and Coronal Mass Ejections – eruptions on the sun that emit plasma towards Earth. Severe solar storms are rare and most Coronal Mass Ejections do not head towards the direction of Earth.

“The faster the ejection, the greater the potential impacts,” says the report, produced by Department for Business, Innovation & Skills. “The Carrington Event, for example, travelled to Earth in as little as 18 hours. It is therefore likely that our reasonable worst case scenario would only allow us 12 hours from observation to impact,” adds the policy paper. 

The solar storm of 1859, known as The Carrington Event, saw the strongest recorded incidents of Solar Flare related X-Rays, radiation storm and Coronal Mass Ejection.

“Where such activity is directed towards Earth there is the potential to cause wide-ranging impacts. These include power loss, aviation disruption, communication loss, and disturbance to (or loss) of satellite systems,” adds the report.

The risk of severe space weather was added to the National Risk Assessment in 2011.

The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills manages the risk of severe space weather on behalf of the UK and co-ordinates efforts to improve resilience.

The document says the main challenge is that the awareness of space weather risk is low and more needs to be done to encourage potentially vulnerable sectors to adopt measures to mitigate any likely impacts.

It also says communications with the public is also important in “preparing for and responding to an event.” 

“But there are specific challenges for severe space weather due to our limited understanding of likely impacts and ability to forecast major events,” it adds.

Source: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills 

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