Severe space “weather” can knock out satellite communications and GPS systems, expose space tourists and astronauts to dangerous levels of radiation, and even cause massive blackouts on Earth that could last up to two years, scientists and NASA officials warned at a conference here on Tuesday.
A sun storm on the scale of one that happened in 1859, which was recorded by British brewer and amateur astronomer Richard Carrington, would potentially have sweeping consequences on huge population clusters in the United States, experts at the Space Weather Enterprise Forum said.
“The United States population that is at risk of an extended power outage from a Carrington-level storm is between 20-40 million, with an outage duration of possibly 16 days to one to two years,” said Kathryn Sullivan, the first woman to walk in space and now the acting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which hosted Tuesday’s conference.
“The highest risk of storm-induced outages of these magnitudes in the United States is between Washington DC and New York City,” she said, citing a report released last month by global insurance giant Lloyd’s of London, which urged businesses to “think about their exposure to space weather.”
“Space weather is not science ﬁction, it is an established fact,” the Lloyds report said.