The 23rd Cycle: Learning to Live with a Stormy Star

By Sten F. Odenwald | Go to book overview
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6
They Call Them “Satellite Anomalies”

Space weather is working its way into the national consciousness as we see an increasing number of problems with parts of our technological infrastructure such as satellite failures and widespread electrical power brownouts and blackouts.

—National Space Weather Program, “Implementation Plan,” 1999

January 20, 1994, was a moderately active day for the Sun. There were no obvious solar flares in progress and there was no evidence for any larger than normal amounts of X rays, but a series of coronal holes had just rotated across the Sun between January 13–19. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Environment Center, the only sign of unrest near the Earth was the highspeed solar wind from these coronal holes, which had produced measurable geomagnetic storm conditions in their wake. NASA's SAMPEX satellite was beginning to tell another, more ominous, story. The Sun was quiet, but there were unmistakable signs that energetic electrons were being spawned near geosynchronous orbit, and their concentrations were climbing rapidly. These particles came from the passage of a disturbance from the magnetotail region into the inner magnetic field regions around the Earth. Within minutes, the GOES-4 and GOES-5 weather satellites began to detect accumulating electrostatic charges on their outer surfaces. Unlike the discharge you feel after shuffling across a floor, there is no easy and quick way that satellites can unload the

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