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Solar storms get a new tracker, in Britain

IANS | Last Updated: Thursday, December 26, 2013 - 16:01

London: Imagine days without your favourite TV soap, chilly evenings with room heaters or romantic nights without WhatsApp.

This is what you will experience in the event a solar storm hits the earth.

The scary possibility has moved the British government to begin a space weather service to provide early warning of powerful solar storms.
Backed by 4.6 million pounds ($7.5 million) funding over three years, the service will run non-stop from April 2014, said a report published in Nature.

Controlled by Britain`s Met Office, the service is set to provide an early warning for services likely to be crippled by severe space weather when magnetic storms in the sun’s atmosphere release streams of energetic particles into space.

These storms can damage satellites, kill the Global Positioning System (GPS), cripple power services, cause radio blackouts and create havoc with earth’s magnetic field.

“The facility would provide a back-up for the US Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), which is run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service in Colorado,” informed Mark Gibbs, British Met Office’s space-weather business manager.
The British service will use the same basic data as its US counterpart, gathered from European Space Agency and NASA space observatories.

It would, however, use slightly different models and ground-based data, including measurements by the British Geological Survey of the size of the magnetic storms in earth’s atmosphere, the report added.

“Now is the right time to invest in space-weather forecasting capability as technological services on earth can be affected by space weather anytime,” said Britain`s Science Minister David Willetts.

The world witnessed a massive solar storm in 2012 at the far side of the sun that sent billions of tonnes of solar particles into space at a speed of over 11 million kilometres per hour.

If the same event had occurred just a week later, the sun’s rotation would have meant that earth would have been affected, added the report.

First Published: Thursday, December 26, 2013 - 16:01
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