Weather in Space and the Effects on Earth
For years, citizens in the United States have had access to televised weather as well as radar images of storm activity from around the world. Weather prediction has become increasingly accurate with the advancement of technology and should continue to get better. For the majority of people following the weather has become a routine part of their lives. As a society we seem to be well educated about the weather occurring on our own planet but we know little of the weather that occurs in space.
Space weather affects the earth in many different ways. In less than a year scientists hope to be able to predict the weather in space like meteorologists do here on earth. A new spacecraft called IMAGE (which I will discuss later in detail), launched in 2000 and will carry many instruments that will paint a picture of space weather for scientists. Scientists will then be able to predict when space storms will hit. Most people don't even notice when a space storm is occurring but they are still affected. Space storms have the most severe effects on power grids, satellites, and astronauts.
During space storms a strong current is created in the upper atmosphere called the auroral electrojet. This is created from many electrons traveling at high speeds towards the earth as well as charged particles swirling around the earth and colliding with the upper atmosphere. This current can cause fluctuations in the geomagnetic field, which can cause electrical surges in power lines on the ground. An example is on March 13, 1989, an intense geomagnetic storm knocked out the Hydro-Quebec power grid and put large parts of Canada into darkness.
Satellites are affected when particles strike the satellite and the craft's surface becomes charged. Sometimes this buildup can trigger a spark that will short-circuit the satellites electronics. Space storms also heat the earth's atmosphere, which causes it to expand. If the atmosphere expands far enough out it can enter the satellites orbit and drag it downward. This situation occurred in 1979 and caused the premature fall of Skylab.
Astronauts are also at risk during severe space storms. During a storm the astronauts could be exposed to protons that could penetrate their spacesuits. Some storms may be powerful enough to penetrate the space station walls. NASA monitors space weather data to inform and protect their astronauts from any dangerous weather. NASA will postpone or cancel any planned space walks and may order the astronauts to seek shelter in a shielded part of the space station if oncoming weather looks dangerous.
Weather in space, similar to weather here on earth, is extremely variable. Conditions in space can go from being very calm to a severe storm in a matter of minutes. Space storms can last for hours or even days. Weather in space follows cycles similar to earth's weather that changes with the seasons. Solar magnetic activity is what...