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.
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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.
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