Space weather "storms" can cause electricity to flow in Earth's atmosphere. That can cause unusual electrical currents in the wires that carry electricity to homes. Sometimes space weather storms mess up the flow of electricity in our power system so much that they cause blackouts.
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy John G. Kappenman, Minnesota Power, Duluth, Minnesota.
Space Weather Effects on Electrical Power Systems
Space weather "storms" can cause problems on Earth. They can even mess up our systems that make electricity and that deliver electricity to peoples' houses. Sometimes really big space weather storms can cause massive blackouts over large areas. In March of 1989 six million people in eastern Canada lost their electrical power for nine hours because of really big space weather storm.
Our electrical systems are designed to use alternating current (AC) electricity. Space weather disturbances can cause large flows of direct current (DC) electricity in power transmission wires. Electrical systems use very high voltage electricity to transmit power over long distances from power plants to peoples' homes and to businesses. However, high voltage electricity is dangerous, so the power is converted to lower voltage before it is delivered to homes and other users. Transformers are devices that convert high voltage electricity to lower voltage electricity.
Transformers work fine with AC electricity, but can be damaged or destroyed if too much DC electricity flows into them. That's what can happen during big space weather storms. If many transformers fail at once, the whole electrical system over a large area can go down. That's how space weather can cause a blackout.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Our online store
includes issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist
, full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science, as well as books
on science education!
You might also be interested in:
There are two types of electrical currents that can flow through wires: direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC). Direct current (DC) flows in the same direction all the time through an electric...more
Space weather causes electricity to flow in our atmosphere. Sometimes that electricity lights up the sky by causing the aurora (the Southern and Northern Lights). Electric currents in the atmosphere can...more
Our electrical power system supplies our homes and businesses with electricity. Space weather storms can mess up the power system, leaving us without electricity. A transformer is a piece of equipment...more
Sometimes a whole electric power system shuts down. This can happen after a strong space weather storm. It is hard to get the whole system running again after it has been shut down all the way. The main...more
In 1989 a space weather storm caused an electrical blackout over a large area. Six million people in eastern Canada lost electrical power for 9 hours or longer. The blackout of the HydroQuebec power grid...more
Earth's magnetosphere shields our planet from most of the solar wind. Some solar wind particles do leak in and combine with ions escaping from the top of Earth's atmosphere to populate the magnetosphere...more
There is a giant magnetic "bubble" in space around the Sun. That "bubble" is called the heliosphere. In a sense, we Earthlings live within the outer atmosphere of our Sun. The solar...more