The more we know about solar activity, the better we can protect ourselves. The Sun is surrounded by a fleet of spacecraft that can see sunspots forming, flares crackling and a solar storm about 30 minutes before it hits Earth. NASA and the National Science Foundation have also developed sophisticated models to predict where solar storms will go once they leave the Sun, akin to National Weather Service programs that track hurricanes and tornadoes on Earth.
Thanks to these sentries, it is increasingly difficult for the Sun to take us by surprise. If alerted, Internet server hubs, telecommunications centers and financial institutions can prepare for disruptions and power plant operators can disconnect transformers. And yet a space weather forecaster we know at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration often tells a story of a conversation he had with a pilot:.
The point of the story is to highlight how far the scientific community and the government have to go to raise awareness about space weather and its effects. With the sun waking up, trans-Atlantic cooperation comes at just the right time. Let us hope it is only the beginning of a worldwide effort to forecast and understand space weather.
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