Shop Windows to the Universe

The Winter 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist includes a variety of educational resources, ranging from astronomy to glaciers. Check out the other publications and classroom materials in our online store.
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. They can also damage the wires and other equipment used to deliver electricity to peoples' houses. Sometimes really big space weather storms can cause blackouts over large areas. In March of 1989 a big space weather storm hit eastern Canada. Six million people lost their electrical power for nine hours or longer!

Our electrical systems use a special type of electricity. It is called alternating current (AC) electricity. There is another type of electricity called direct current (DC) electricity. Space weather storms can make DC electricity flow in wires. Transformers are devices that are connected to the wires. Transformers work fine when AC electricity is flowing through them. However, DC electricity is bad for transformers. When space weather storms make DC electricity in the wires it can damage the transformers. Sometimes it can even make the transformers explode!

Big space weather storms can damage a lot of transformers. If that happens, electricity stops flowing to homes and stores. That can cause a blackout.

Last modified January 19, 2010 by Randy Russell.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

Our online store includes books on science education, ranging from evolution, classroom research, and the need for science and math literacy!

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Direct Current (DC) & Alternating Current (AC) Electricity

There are two types of electrical currents that can flow through wires: direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC). Direct current (DC) electricity flows in the same direction all the time through...more

Space Weather Causes Currents in Electric Power Grids

Space weather causes electricity to flow in our atmosphere. Sometimes that electricity lights up the sky! It causes the aurora (the Southern and Northern Lights). The electric currents in the atmosphere...more

How Space Weather Can Damage Transformers

We get electricity in our homes and schools from our electrical power system. Did you know that space weather storms can mess up the power system? When that happens, people are left without electricity....more

Problems Restoring Electrical Power After a Blackout

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

The Cost of a Blackout Caused by Space Weather

Did you know that a storm in space could cause the lights to go out in your house? That's what happened to people in Canada in 1989. In March 1989 a space weather storm hit Earth. It caused an electrical...more

Space Weather at Earth

Did you know that the Earth has a magnetic field? It's almost as if a giant bar magnet ran through our planet. The magnetic field of the Earth is like a huge bubble around our planet. This bubble keeps...more

Space Weather throughout the Solar System

The Sun is huge. It has an effect on things even if they are far from the Sun. The "bubble" where the Sun has an effect on things is called the heliosphere. It goes even past Pluto! The place...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF