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Young Voices for the Planet DVD in our online store includes 8 films where students speak out and take action on climate change.
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! It causes the aurora (the Southern and Northern Lights). The electric currents in the atmosphere can cause other electric currents to flow in the oceans and through the ground. They can also cause currents in objects made by people. That includes 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 of electricity. Electricity can flow through it easily. Some rocks are poor electrical conductors. Electricity doesn't always flow well through the ground. The electricity tries to use a "short cut" through pipelines or electrical wires. The normal type of 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 make 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.

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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