Shop Windows to the Universe

Become a nitrogen atom in the nitrogen cycle in our Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit/Game. See all our games, activity kits and classroom activities.
This is a close-up view of a part of a transformer that was damaged by space weather. The transformer overheated and caught fire.
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy of Public Service Electric and Gas and Peter Balma.

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. A transformer is a kind of equipment that is used a lot in electrical power systems. A transformer converts electricity from one voltage to another. Transformers can be damaged or destroyed by surges of electricity caused by a space weather storm.

A transformer is designed to work well with AC (Alternating Current) electricity. That's the kind of electricity that normally flows through the wires of our power systems. Space weather can cause DC (Direct Current) electricity to flow through the wires and transformers. DC electricity is bad for transformers.

When transformers get too much DC electricity, they heat up. Parts of the transformer might melt. Oil in the transformer can catch on fire. Some transformers can even explode!

Even if the transformer isn't destroyed, it might be damaged. It might wear out sooner and need to be replaced.

Last modified February 26, 2009 by Randy Russell.

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, ranging from seismology, rocks and minerals, oceanography, and Earth system science to astronomy!

Windows to the Universe Community



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

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....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

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

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

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 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

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