The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) will begin monitoring the sun next month and providing valuable warnings about solar eruptions. Solar eruptions, or coronal mass ejections, can damage global positioning systems, communication networks, and even interfere with power grids. DSCOVR will be perhaps the most important part of a system the US Space Weather Prediction will use to alert power companies, airlines, and cell phone companies, as well as other affected industries and parts of the government.
What are coronal mass ejections?
Coronal mass ejections are explosions of magnetic fields and plasma from the sun. They get their name from the Sun’s “crown” of plasma, and hundreds of them happen every year, depending on the sunspot cycle. Very few of them are aimed at us. Yet, the ones that are could have some very adverse effects on the aforementioned industries, as well as shoot scientists or passengers on flights near the poles with an unhealthy dose of radiation.
How will the system work?
Around a month from now, instrument checks on the satellite will be completed. The satellite will then orbit at Lagrange Point 1, a place where Earth’s gravity and the sun’s cancel each other out to keep the satellite from falling in either direction. Once the space buoy is in orbit, we will have the benefit of knowing the composition of the next coronal mass ejection bound for Earth. The satellite will detect eruptions’ compositions, sometimes even getting hit by them. The warning will give people on Earth half an hour to one hour’s notice, the data being sent to the Space Weather Prediction center. DSCOVR will also allow scientists to predict where and when the worst solar weather will be. Hopefully, these efforts should provide enough time to take preventative action and save networks and power grids, as well as get people out of the way of harmful radiation.
People today are more susceptible to poor space weather.
Due to our reliance on power grids, cell phones, GPS systems and the like, we are more vulnerable than ever to solar eruptions. It has been estimated that a solar eruption as bad as the 1859 Carrington Event, which then caused telegraph line failures, would now be responsible for one to two trillion dollars’ worth of damage and four to ten years’ repairs. A system like the DSCOVR space buoy will be a valuable tool in saving multi-billion dollar industries and keeping our daily lives from being disrupted by space weather.