Friday, July 2, 2010

June 25 - Mystery glitch? Blame it on the sun‏

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Mystery glitch? Blame it on the sun

Trouble ahead (Image:  NASA)

Trouble ahead (Image: NASA)

EVER think to check the space weather forecast? Power suppliers and the operators of oil pipelines and railroads might want to start.

Although it would take a truly massive space storm to cause a catastropheMovie Camera, it is becoming clear that even modest solar activity poses a threat in our technology-dependent world. It makes railway signals go haywire and rusts oil pipelines to the point that they may leak, not to mention wearing down key components in power grids, which could drive up the cost of electricity.

If our planet happens to be in the line of fire when the sun belches out clouds of plasma, these coronal mass ejections (CMEs), can greatly disturb Earth's magnetic field. Such magnetic disturbances in turn can generate currents in power transmission lines, which act like giant antennas to pick up the disturbances.

Power transmission lines act like giant antennas, picking up disturbances in Earth's magnetic field

A huge solar burstMovie Camera - similar in strength to one observed in 1859, the biggest on record - could wreck the world economy. Big storms that occur about once per decade can also create chaos, like one that caused a 9-hour blackout in Quebec, Canada, in 1989.

But the effects of smaller space storms have not been examined in as much detail as they deserve, says Louis Lanzerotti of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, who is editor of the journal Space Weather.

Relatively minor space storms now appear to be behind a range of mysterious mishaps - railway signals malfunctioning in Archangel province in north-western Russia, for example, between 2000 and 2005. A study led by Eugenia Eroshenko of the Pushkov Institute of Terrestrial Magnetism, Ionosphere and Radio Wave Propagation in Troitsk, Russia, examined episodes when signals turned red for minutes or even hours though the track ahead was clear, then spontaneously reverted to green.

Eroshenko's team found that 16 malfunctions of this sort observed between 2000 and 2005 coincided with space storms (Advances in Space Research, DOI: 10.1016/j.asr.2010.05.017). "We were surprised by such a clear correlation," Eroshenko says.

How could space weather switch railroad signals from green to red? CMEs appear to interfere with circuits used to sense whether a segment of track is occupied. A power source connected to the two rails normally maintains a voltage between them while they are unoccupied. When a train is present, it eliminates the potential energy difference between the rails by allowing electricity to flow from one to the other. Space storms may have the same effect on the rails as a train, generating unwanted electric currents that could cause the voltage between the two rails to drop and the signal to turn red.

The parts of the Russian railway studied by Eroshenko's team might be especially vulnerable to space weather because they are in the far north, and solar storms are most intense around the poles.

Team member Risto Pirjola of the Finnish Meteorological Institute in Helsinki thinks that if other countries start examining the timing of unexplained signal problems, they may turn up a similar link to space weather. The evidence of a link to space storms is "very convincing", says Rod Perala of Electro Magnetic Applications, a consultancy in Lakewood, Colorado, that studies the effects of space weather. It would be wise for railways in other countries to check their equipment for vulnerability to space weather, too, he says.

It should be possible to modify railways to prevent these problems. Some sections seem immune to space weather, perhaps because of minor differences in electrical hardware, and the parts used in the problem-prone areas could be changed, Eroshenko says, but funds have been lacking.

Space weather may also make oil and gas pipelines more prone to rusting - a particular concern because rusty pipelines sometimes spring leaks, creating costly and environmentally damaging spills.

The chemical reactions that cause rust require electrons to flow from the pipe into the surrounding soil, so one way to keep corrosion at bay is to create a potential energy barrier that impedes this flow of electrons, using a power source attached to the pipe. Space storms, however, generate currents in pipes that can overwhelm this barrier, allowing corrosion to proceed.

Engineers have measured such currents, though no one has yet quantified how much these flows increase corrosion. "That's much harder to estimate because it's a long, slow process and it depends on a host of other factors" like soil composition and moisture, says David Boteler of the Geological Survey of Canada's Geomagnetic Laboratory in Ottawa.

The worry is that corrosion induced by space weather may reduce the useful lifetime of the pipes, which in turn means they require early replacement. This could be a very costly problem, if for example it cuts the lifetime of a pipeline from an expected 60 years to 30, given the great expense of building new ones, Boteler says. And the effects on pipelines may be worldwide.

If space weather cuts the lifetime of pipes from 60 to 30 years, that could be prohibitively expensive

Richard Marshall of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology's space weather unit found that space storms disrupted voltages in pipelines in northern Australia, which is just 20 degrees from the equator (Space Weather, DOI: 10.1029/2009SW000553).

"Geomagnetic effects are becoming an issue that must be considered for pipelines at all latitudes," says Boteler.

Subtle effects of run-of-the-mill space storms may also wear down key components in electric power grids, making them liable to early failure.

Space storms cause currents to flow in electrical transformers, which are used to boost the voltage of electrical flows to the high levels needed for efficient long-distance transmission and then back down again for safe use by consumers at the delivery point. Intense power surges due to big space storms can heat transformers enough within minutes to damage the insulation needed to prevent short circuits, which can cause them to explode.

More recently, there are signs that transformers can be destroyed by smaller currents over a period of hours or more. A long-lasting 2003 space storm delivered only relatively low-intensity currents to the South African power grid, but damaged several transformers anyway, notes US-based storm analysis consultant John Kappenman.

Kappenman raised concerns about low-intensity storms at a conference in March in Dallas, Texas, organised by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. Small insults from numerous storms may accumulate over a period of years, causing transformers to fail, he says. The number of transformer failures in the US seems to mirror the 11-year rise and fall of the solar cycle, which governs the frequency of space storms, in data Kappenman presented at the conference.

The cost of replacing transformers gets passed on to consumers, though Kappenman says it is unlikely to account for more than a few per cent of the total cost of electricity. Still, the problem is pervasive. "Arguably every transformer that's out there has been exposed to some degree to this problem."

Lanzerotti emphasises the importance of such cumulative effects. "The big [storms] are so dramatic that people pay most attention to them," he says, "but I do think these cumulative types of effects deserve more attention."

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How to Digitally Record/Video a UFO sighting:

Como registar digitalmente ou gravar um vídeo de um avistamento de um UFO:

Stabilize the camera on a tripod. If there is no tripod, then set it on top of a stable, flat surface. If that is not possible lean against a wall to stabilize your body and prevent the camera from filming in a shaky, unsteady manner.

Estabilize a camera com um tripé. Se não tiver um tripé, então coloque-a em cima de uma superfície estável. Se não for possível, então encoste-se a uma parede para estabilizar o corpo e evitar que a camera registe de maneira tremida e instável.

Provide visual reference points for comparison. This includes the horizon, treetops, lampposts, houses, and geographical landmarks (i.e., Horsetooth Reservoir, Mt. Adams, etc.) Provide this in the video whenever is appropriate and doesn’t detract from what your focus is, the UFO.

Forneça pontos visuais de referência para comparação. Isso inclui o horizonte, cimo das árvores, postes de iluminação, pontos de referência geográficos (como o Reservatório de Horsetooth, Mone Adams, etc) Forneça esses pontos no vídeo sempre que for apropriado e não se distraia do que é o seu foco, o UFO/a Nave.

Narrate your videotape. Provide details of the date, time, location, and direction (N,S,E,W) you are looking in. Provide your observations on the weather, including approximate temperature, windspeed, any visible cloud cover or noticeable weather anomalies or events. Narrate on the shape, size, color, movements, approximate altitude of the UFO, etc and what it appears to be doing. Also include any unusual physical, psychological or emotional sensations you might have. Narrate any visual reference points on camera so they correlate with what the viewer will see, and thereby will be better able to understand.

Faça a narração do vídeo. Forneça pormenores sobre a data, hora, local e direcção (Norte, Sul, Este, Oeste) que está a observar. Faça observações sobre as condições atmosféricas, incluindo a temperatura aproximada, velocidade do vento, quantidade de nuvens, anomalias ou acontecimentos meteorológicos evidentes. Descreva a forma, o tamanho, a cor, os movimentos, a altitude aproximada onde se encontra o UFO/nave, etc e o que aparenta estar a fazer. Inclua também quaisquer aspectos pouco habituais de sensações físicas, psicológicas ou emocionais que possa ter. Faça a narração de todos os pontos de referência visual que o espectador irá ver e que, deste modo, será capaz de compreender melhor.

Be persistent and consistent. Return to the scene to videotape and record at this same location. If you have been successful once, the UFO sightings may be occurring in this region regularly, perhaps for specific reasons unknown, and you may be successful again. You may also wish to return to the same location at a different time of day (daylight hours) for better orientation and reference. Film just a minute or two under “normal” circumstances for comparison. Write down what you remember immediately after. As soon as you are done recording the experience/event, immediately write down your impressions, memories, thoughts, emotions, etc. so it is on the record in writing. If there were other witnesses, have them independently record their own impressions, thoughts, etc. Include in this exercise any drawings, sketches, or diagrams. Make sure you date and sign your documentation.

Seja persistente e não contraditório. Volte ao local da cena e registe o mesmo local. Se foi bem sucedido uma vez, pode ser que nessa região ocorram avistamentos de UFOs/naves com regularidade, talvez por razões específicas desconhecidas, e talvez possa ser novamente bem sucedido. Pode também desejar voltar ao mesmo lugar a horas diferentes do dia (durante as horas de luz)para ter uma orientação e referência melhor. Filme apenas um ,inuto ou dois em circunstâncias “normais” para ter um termo de comparação. Escreva tudo o que viu imediatamente após o acontecimento. Logo após ter feito o registo da experiência/acontecimento, escreva imediatamente as impressões, memórias, pensamentos, emoções, etc para que fiquem registadas por escrito. Se houver outras testemunhas, peça-lhes para registar independentemente as suas próprias impressões, pensamentos, etc. Inclua quaisquer desenhos, esbolos, diagramas. Certifique-se que data e assina o seu documento/testemunho.

Always be prepared. Have a digital camera or better yet a video camera with you, charged and ready to go, at all times. Make sure you know how to use your camera (and your cell phone video/photo camera) quickly and properly. These events can occur suddenly, unexpectedly, and often quite randomly, so you will need to be prepared.

Esteja sempre preparado, Tenha sempre uma camera digital, melhor ainda, uma camera vídeo consigo, carregada e pronta a usar sempre que necessário. Certifique-se que sabe como lidar com a sua camera (ou com o seu celular/camera fotográfica) rápida e adequadamente. Esses acontecimentos podem acontecer súbita e inesperadamente e, por vezes, acidentalmente, por isso, necessita estar preparado.

Look up. Be prepared. Report. Share.

Olhe para cima, Esteja preparado, Relate, Partilhe.



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