Space weather: be afraid, be very afraid

By admin
18 July 2016

Houston, I mean Hermanus, we have a problem . . .

In space, the weather is extreme - very extreme. Powerful eruptions on the sun and raging space storms could wreak havoc on Earth, cutting off our electricity and access to electronics for weeks and even months on end.

Fortunately Earth's atmosphere protects us from a lot of the wild weather that occurs out there. But in 2012 we missed a space weather disaster by about a week - watch this video to see what happened.

Did you know that South Africa has its own space weather bureau? It belongs to the SA National Space Agency (Sansa) and is located in Hermanus on the Western Cape coast. Their website even has daily space weather predictions!

3 space weather phenomena

  • Solar flares – a sudden eruption of energy on the surface of the sun which can damage satellites and cause GPS and navigation errors.

Picture of sun with a flare erupting A solar flare photographed last year by the Hermanus space weather bureau. Pic: Sansa

  • Solar winds – charged particles released from the sun. they create spectacular light shows in the sky, such as the beautiful aurora borealis (northern lights) seen in winter in the far northern parts of the planet. The winds can also totally mess up communications systems and electronics on Earth.

Light show in the sky - northern lights The beautiful aurora borealis. Pic: wikimedia

  • Geomagnetic storms – a temporary disturbance of Earth's magnetic field caused by solar winds. These storms can generate electric currents that can affect our electricity supply and cause power losses over vast areas.

And here follows the space weather forecast for today . . . 

  • Solar activity remains low.
  • Solar wind speed is still high as the influence of a coronal hole continues, with speeds between 500 - 550 km/s.
  • Local geomagnetic activity is currently at quiet levels.

Speaking of space . . .

Astronaut holding cover of YOU Gateway to Space publication

  • Have you been to YOU's spectacular Gateway to Space exhibition in Sandton? It's not to be missed and is only on till the end of the month. And if you go on the 20th, you can help celebrate the 47th anniversary of the first moonlanding!

Picture for clicking through to book GTS tickets

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