Feeds

Now UK must look out for crappy SPACE weather - engineers

Solar superstorm bound to hit us 'at some point', warn boffins

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

Britain needs immediate plans on how to defend itself against extreme solar superstorms, the Royal Academy of Engineering has warned.

Solar superstorm effects

In a rather doom-heavy missive (PDF, 2.8MB), the RAE has said that although Blighty is better prepared than some other countries when it comes to the off-chance of extreme solar weather, it could do better.

Solar superstorms are a pretty rare occurrence, the last true Sun storm, called the Carrington event, was back in 1859. But despite the fact that most of these infrequent catastrophes don't affect Earth - and of those that do, only half actually interact with our environment and cause any damage - one hitting the planet is "inevitable at some point".

When that day comes, the solar strike will be capable of affecting the electricity grid, satellites, GPS systems, aviation and conceivably mobile communications. To ensure that no one has to stop tweeting about how they're lost right now because their TomTom is stuck in an infinite loop of "Go left, go left, go left", Britain needs to come up with a plan - right now.

The RAE wants the government to set up a UK Space Weather Board "to provide overall leadership of UK space weather activities".

"This board must have the capacity to maintain an overview of space weather strategy across all government departments," the Academy warned.

The report also recommends that the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council ensure that its research programmes "recognise the importance of extreme space weather mitigation".

In the meantime, companies and bodies running GPS satellites, mobile phone networks, airlines and the National Grid should be making sure that they have a back-up system in place. Mobe networks should be able to go for three days without global navigational satellite systems (GNSS), while aircraft navigation systems should have a contingency plan for loss of GNSS as well.

"In a solar superstorm of the size of the Carrington event, air passengers and crew already airborne would be exposed to a one-off dose of radiation," the Academy said. "The radiation doses received would result in a marginal increase in cancer risk. The same radiation may also upset the electronics on aircraft, but design practices will keep the risks to a minimum."

The National Grid has already bolstered the electricity grid against disruption, but it should take care to continue to do so, the RAE added.

How well current and future systems can mitigate against an extreme space weather event will be down to the specific technology and of course cost. But there should definitely be some money spent on engineers.

"Mitigation of the effects of solar superstorms requires a balance between engineering approaches and operational approaches – the latter being partly dependent on storm forecasts," the report said.

"Technological mitigation tends to be application specific, whereas forecasting has both generic and application specific elements. Reliable space weather forecasting requires a mix of satellite and ground based observations combined with coupled physical models.

"It is likely to be a Grand Challenge for the scientific community and requires partnership with the engineering and business communities to be effective." ®

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
All those new '5G standards'? Here's the science they rely on
Radio professor tells us how wireless will get faster in the real world
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.