NASA is working a new early-warning system unlike anything else on Earth: the Solar Shield.
The shield is meant to protect earthlings—and their electrical grids—from massive eruptions during powerful solar storms. During solar storms, billions of tons of plasma and charged particles can be thrown into space, threatening astronauts and satellites in space, as well as commercial power grids on Earth.
According to NASA, power grids can become overburdened or damaged during particularly powerful solar storms, potentially causing trillions of dollars of damage.
The Solar Shield will predict the severity of sun storms at specific locations around the globe.
"It amounts to knowing 'something is coming and it may be big,'" project leader Antti Pulkkinen, a research associate at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, told Space.com.
MSNBC.com had the story:
It goes something like this: Once a coronal mass ejection is registered, data from the sun-watching observatories like the SOHO spacecraft and NASA's twin Stereo satellites allow the team to create a 3-D model and provide a relatively long-term prediction as to its arrival time, ranging anywhere from 24 to 48 hours.
The ACE satellite collects real-time data, enabling the team to quickly refine and narrow their predictions. NASA then notifies the Electric Power Research Institutes Sunburst program with their results.
These actions could include simple things such as canceling planned maintenance work or having more employees on hand to deal with resulting surges, or stronger tactics like disconnecting the most vulnerable transformers from the grid itself. Such a controlled power outage only would be temporary, and far less damaging than an externally induced blackout.