Shop Windows to the Universe

Our Glaciers: Then and Now activity kit helps you see the changes taking place in glaciers around the world. See all our activity kits and classroom activities.
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 Causes Currents in Electric Power Grids

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 cause electric currents to flow in the oceans and through the ground. They can also cause currents in objects made by people, like metal pipelines or the wires used in our electrical power system. Sometimes that causes problems.

Electric currents try to flow along the easiest path. Salty ocean water is a good conductor, so electricity can flow through it easily. Some rocks are poor conductors, so electricity doesn't always flow well through the ground. The electricity tries to use a "short cut" through pipelines or electrical wires. Normally, the electricity in the wires of our power grid is AC (Alternating Current) electricity. The electricity that flows through the wires because of space weather is DC (Direct Current) electricity. DC electricity doesn't work well in our power grid. It can damage transformers, causing them to catch on fire or explode.

Big space weather storms can generate lots of DC electricity in wires and transformers. That can cause lots of problems for our electrical power system.

Last modified February 17, 2009 by Randy Russell.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

Our online store includes books on science education, classroom activities in The Earth Scientist, mineral and fossil specimens, and educational games!

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Cool It! Game

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

Space Weather Effects on Pipelines

Pipelines for transporting oil, natural gas, and water are often made of conducting materials like steel. Very long pipelines (thousands of kilometers/miles) are used to transport oil and gas at high latitudes,...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) flows in the same direction all the time through an electric...more

How Space Weather Can Damage Transformers

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

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...more

Space Weather throughout the Solar System

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

Space Weather at Earth and in Near-Earth Space (Geospace)

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

Pipelines - Basic Information

The invention of the seamless, electrically-welded pipe in the 1920's which was capable of carrying material under high pressures, enabled the building of profitable pipelines over a thousand miles long....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