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We now offer the Cool It! card game in our Science Store. Cool It! is the new card game from UCS that teaches kids about the choices we have when it comes to climate change.
Space weather storms can cause trouble on Earth. Strong storms can mess up radio signals, shut down electrical systems, and expose people to radiation.
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Image courtesy L. J. Lanzerotti, Bell Laboratories, Lucent Technologies, Inc.

How Space Weather Affects Human Society

It may seem strange to you, but space weather can affect people on Earth. Let's see how!

Space weather "storms" can mess up radio waves. We use radios waves to communicate with airplanes, to send cell phone signals, and to broadcast television shows. Some radio waves bounce off a layer of our atmosphere called the ionosphere. The ionosphere changes along with the "weather in space". Space weather storms change the magnetic field around Earth. That can really mess up compasses! Changes to the magnetic field make electricity flow in strange places. That can damage electrical power systems and metal pipelines.

Space weather creates different types of radiation. Radiation can harm people and other living creatures. Some animals, like homing pigeons, have natural compasses. Space weather storms can make it harder for those animals to find their way around.

Radiation from space weather can damage satellites. It can "fry" electronics and can "wear away" at solar panels. "Strong" space weather heats Earth's atmosphere and makes it puff up. That makes more drag on satellites, which tend to fall out of orbit sooner.

Not all space weather effects are bad, though. "Storms from space" can produce beautiful light shows called the aurora, or Northern and Southern Lights. There are myths, legends and art in Arctic cultures about the aurora. For example, one Norse myth says the Northern Lights are reflections from the shields of the warrior-maiden valkyries.

Last modified January 19, 2010 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA