NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory via Getty Images
Taken by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spacecraft in February 2011, this time lapse sequence photo reveals the strongest flare to have been released in four years by the sun, which prompted warnings that a resulting geo-magnetic storm could disrupt communications and electrical supplies on earth.
A monster blast of geomagnetic particles from the sun could destroy 300 or more of the 2,100 high-voltage transformers that are the backbone of the U.S. electric grid, according to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Even a few hundred destroyed transformers could disable the entire interconnected system.
There is impetus for a group of federal agencies to look for ways to prepare for such a storm this year as the sun moves into an active period called solar maximum, expected to peak in 2013.
Although the likelihood of this kind of geomagnetic storm, like a big hit from a space rock, is extremely low, its impact would be great. By comparison, the probability of a large meteorite hitting Earth is at some fraction of 1 percent.
Power blackouts can cause chaos, as they did briefly in India when more than 600 million people lost electricity for hours on two consecutive days in July. However, the kind of long-duration outage that might happen in the case of a massive solar storm would have more profound and costly effects.
There is disagreement on how costly the damage would be, but experts in the U.S. government and industry acknowledge it is a complex problem requiring a coordinated solution.
(MORE: Biggest Power Outages of the Past Year)
A report by the NAS estimated that about 365 high-voltage transformers in the continental United States are at risk of failure or permanent damage requiring replacement in the event of a solar superstorm.
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, or NERC, which oversees North America's power grid, disputed the academy's estimate that hundreds of high-voltage transformers could be lost in a solar superstorm.
In a report earlier this year, NERC said a more likely result would be voltage collapse, which would take out power but not destroy transformers. Any power outage would be less protracted in that event.
Read the article in its entirety from The Weather Channel site: