SERIES: Sun Poses Threat to Electric Grid

A now defunded commission warned Congress October 12 North Korea could damage or destroy our power grid with one bomb detonated over our country. The commission studied electromagnetic pulses (EMPs), both from foreign countries and from the sun.

Posted: Nov. 29, 2017 7:54 PM
Updated: Nov. 30, 2017 9:42 AM

MEDFORD, Ore. -- North Korea launched its most powerful missile to date Tuesday. The United Nations had an emergency security council meeting in response.

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A now defunded commission warned Congress October 12 North Korea could damage or destroy our power grid with one bomb detonated over our country. The commission studied electromagnetic pulses (EMPs), both from foreign countries and from the sun.

The sun sends outs coronal mass ejections (CMEs). They are similar to solar flares, but instead of X-rays and light, they send out magnetized particles into space -- an EMP. Those particles interact with Earth's magnetic field which can disrupt navigation systems and short out electrical circuits.

The largest CME ever recorded to hit Earth was back in 1859. It's known as the Carrington event.

Peter Pry, the former chief of staff of the EMP commission, said that pulse made telegraph poles and wires catch fire. NASA says the auroras created from that event lit up the night sky as bright as daytime.

Our world relies far more on electricity now than it did back then.

According to NASA, if this were to happen today, it could blow out electrical transformers and affect anything with an electric circuit. NASA says space weather is a serious problem. An EMP pulse could affect cellphones, airplane GPS systems, and financial transactions.

That being said, NASA also says "But it is a problem the same way hurricanes are a problem...Scientists at NASA and NOAA give warnings to electric companies, spacecraft operators and airline pilots before a CME comes to Earth so that these groups can take proper precautions."

Robert Black, the astronomy teacher and planetarium director at North Medford High School says he teaches about CMEs in his classes. He also says we have some time before the sun enters into its next "peak active" season.

“We’re headed to a solar minimum so I think we can all sort of rest for a few years," Black said "But by about 2021, 2022, 2023, the sun will once again become very active and it’s something we should think about -- something we should plan for.”

To read more about how well prepared Southern Oregon is for a mass emergency, click here. To read more about what an EMP affects, click here.

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