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This is a close-up view of a part of a transformer that was damaged by space weather. The transformer overheated and caught fire.
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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.

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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