Cover image for Storms from the sun : the emerging science of space weather
Storms from the sun : the emerging science of space weather
Carlowicz, Michael J.
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Publication Information:
Washington, DC : Joseph Henry Press, [2002]

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xi, 234 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
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QB505 .C367 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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From the casual conversation starter to the 24-hour cable channels and Web sites devoted exclusively to the subject, everyone talks about weather. There's even weather in space and it's causing major upsets to our modern technological world.

Space weather is all around us. There are no nightly news reports on space weather (yet), but we're rapidly developing the tools necessary to measure and observe trends in cosmic meteorology. New probes are going on-line that help us monitor the weather taking place miles above the Earth.

But why does space weather matter? It doesn't affect whether we bring an umbrella to work or require us to monitor early school closings. It's far, far away and of little concern to us . . . right? March 13, 1989. The Department of Defense tracking system that keeps tabs on 8,000 objects orbiting Earth suddenly loses track of 1,300 of them. In New Jersey, a $10 million transformer is burned up by a surge of extra current in the power lines. Shocks to a power station in Quebec leave 6 million people without electricity. New England power stations struggle to keep their power grid up. Listeners tuning in to their local stations in Minnesota hear the broadcasts of the California Highway Patrol. Residents of Florida, Mexico, and the Grand Cayman Islands see glowing curtains of light in the sky.

All of these bizarre, and seemingly unconnected, events were caused by a storm on the Sun and a fire in the sky. A series of solar flares and explosions had launched bolts of hot, electrified gas at the Earth and stirred up the second largest magnetic storm in recorded history. Before rockets and radio and the advent of other modern devices, we probably would never have noticed the effects of this space storm. But in today's electrically powered, space-faring world, the greatest space storm of the twenty-second solar maximum rang like a wake-up call.

And we are now in the midst of another solar maximum, the effects of which are expected to be felt all the way through the year 2004. Storms from the Sun explores the emerging physical science of space weather and traces its increasing impact on a society that relies on space-based technologies.

Authors Carlowicz and Lopez explain what space weather really means to us down here, and what it may mean for future explorations and colonization of distant worlds. By translating the findings of NASA and other top scientists into fascinating and accessible descriptions of the latest discoveries, we are privy to some of the most closely held secrets that the solar terrestrial system has to offer.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Since the invention of the telegraph, operators of communications technologies have noted that the Sun somehow disrupts their systems, while scientists have investigated how the Sun wreaks such havoc. At this intersection of practical concerns and pure research lies this excellent history and status report about the Sun's impact on our ever-more-networked civilization. Written by a science writer (Carlowicz) and a scientist of space weather (Lopez), the work swings from recounting the serious damage inflicted on satellites and power grids by solar storms to relaying the principal discoveries of the Sun's effects on the earth's near-space environment. The authors describe early experiments that established a basic model for space weather, a magnetic "cavity" surrounding the earth that is incessantly buffeted by the Sun's magnetic field. The latter intensifies phenomenally when a "coronal mass ejection" carries plasma and magnetism to the neighborhood. The authors' explanation of the physics involved is clearly understandable to curious nonscientists. An accessible companion to Jay Pasachoff and Leon Golub's Nearest Star [BKL Mr 1 01]. --Gilbert Taylor

Library Journal Review

Science writer and education specialist Carlowicz (NASA Goddard Space Flight Ctr.) and physicist Lopez (Univ. of Texas, El Paso) here address "space storms," or the sporadically intense emission of subatomic particles and electromagnetic radiation by the sun. They also discuss the effects of such emission on the earth, its human inhabitants, and its near-space environment. The authors provide colorfully written descriptions of major solar storm disruptions of communications satellites, power grids, and all the technological gadgets dependent on them. They note that for most of human history the only detectable manifestation of "space storms" was the auroras; now, our civilization is often perturbed by invisible but powerful blasts from the sun. The book also contains some discussion of the basic science behind the space storms, but this plays second fiddle to dramatic renditions of the storms' effects on people. There is much of interest here, although the material could have been better organized. The work is clearly aimed at a general audience and is therefore recommended chiefly for public libraries. Jack W. Weigel, Ann Arbor, MI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Solar storms can profoundly affect technology and our health. Science writer Carlowicz and Lopez (a space physicist with a specialty in space weather) have produced a very readable book with clear, nonmathematical explanations. Historically, regular observations of sunspots led to solar monitoring and the discovery of the relation between unusually high solar activity and electrical phenomena on Earth (such as the disruption of telegraph messages or the production of aurora). More serious concerns arose with the increasing use of technology, such as expensive communication (and other) satellites zapped into permanent failure mode or voltage regulators and transformers tripped into causing power failures. Like other forms of radiation, high-energy particles from solar storms can cause genetic mutations or cancers. Especially at risk are astronauts who work well above the protective layer of Earth's atmosphere, but long-term effects could add up for frequent airplane flyers. Space weather forecasting is in its infancy, but the authors point out directions for future research. Excellent illustrations; good list of printed references and Web sites. Recommended. General readers; lower- and upper-division undergraduates. M.-K. Hemenway University of Texas at Austin

Table of Contents

Forewordp. ix
Prologue: Here Comes the Sunp. 1
1 The Day the Pagers Diedp. 11
2 Sun-Eating Dragons, Hairy Stars, and Bridges to Heavenp. 31
3 A Sudden Conflagrationp. 51
4 Connecting Sun to Earthp. 61
5 Living in the Atmosphere of a Starp. 75
6 The Cosmic Wake-Up Callp. 93
7 Fire in the Skyp. 107
8 A Tough Place to Workp. 117
9 Houston, We Could Have a Problemp. 137
10 Seasons of the Sunp. 153
11 The Forecastp. 171
Epilogue: Over the Horizonp. 191
Appendix A Selected Readingp. 199
Appendix B Selected Web Sitesp. 203
Appendix C Acronyms and Abbreviationsp. 207
Endnotesp. 211
Acknowledgmentsp. 217
Indexp. 221