NASA researcher invents tool to give more warning of an incoming sun storm

WASHINGTON —  Solar storms affect everything from GPS for airplanes to the power grid on the ground. Scientists watch out for them 24/7.

But until now, the best they could do was send a warning just an hour ahead of time.

Neel Savani, who studies solar storms at NASA Goddard for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, says the storms don’t often breach the atmosphere, but when they do, they can disrupt GPS, satellites and power systems, much like when such a storm hit Quebec in 2001.

“The storm came, it disrupted the national grid, blew out the transformers, and Quebec was without power for a while,” he says.

The current system used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, offers only an hour’s notice for the industries most affected, like aviation, which is dependent on GPS satellites, he said. “The GPS loses its signal and loses its accuracy when a big storm comes because it reacts with the atmosphere.”

Savani’s new tool uses existing satellites to measure the magnetic field of a solar storm to raise a warning  24 hours ahead of time, which can prevent loss of life, utilities, and money for many industries.

Savani wrote about his findings which you can read here in “Popular Science” magazine.


Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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