Register for an account


Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.


Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

The Sciences

Shelter From the Solar Storm


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Every 11 years, a series of magnetic storms roils across the sun, bombarding us with disruptive showers of charged particles. The particles wiggle the Earth's magnetic field, which, in turn, can induce enough extraneous current in high-voltage power lines to bring down the entire electrical grid. One such event in 1989 left 6 million Canadians in the dark for nine hours and cost $10 million to fix. When the solar cycle peaks again next year, however, utility companies will be prepared.

A monitoring program called Sunburst 2000 will constantly check power lines around the world, looking for small induced currents that indicate the first puffs of a solar squall. The information will be relayed to power system managers within five seconds so they can adjust the current to keep the lines from overloading. "Sunburst 2000 will allow power companies to carry more electricity more of the time and only back off when a storm hits," says Bill Feero, an engineer with Electric Research and Management in State College, Pennsylvania. Later, Feero plans to link Sunburst 2000 with space outposts to gain an extra half-hour of warning. With any luck, the next wave of solar storms won't take anyone by surprise.

    3 Free Articles Left

    Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.


    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

    Want unlimited access?

    Subscribe today and save 70%


    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In