If you’re like most people, you care only how weather will affect your clothing or commute.
But far-off weather could put a damper on modern life. Conditions on the sun, our closest star, have an impact on Earth’s climate and technology, such as GPS, electric power transmission, and radio and satellite communications.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration keeps tabs on our planet’s weather through the National Weather Service. But NOAA also tracks space weather — and you can join in at the Space Weather Prediction Center.
Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are particularly potent. They occur when the sun’s corona — the aura of plasma that surrounds the star — belches out plasma, gas and magnetic field that travels outward.
CMEs’ energy fades by the time it reaches Earth. The planet’s magnetic field forms a shield against solar energy, but it isn’t strong enough to completely insulate Earth. Space weather can affect the electrical grid, as it did in 1989 when a CME-caused geomagnetic storm generated an hours-long power outage in Quebec. Solar phenomena also can damage satellites and cause GPS systems to become inaccurate.
We can’t do much to shield Earth from space weather, but scientists are working to learn more about the events and improve forecasting. NOAA coordinates with the aviation, communication and power industries to communicate space weather conditions.
The site offers plenty of information on how and why CMEs and other space weather can disrupt life on Earth, but not all of its data involves frail Earthlings’ susceptibility to conditions on a star that’s 93 million miles away.
It’s also a great place to find out where the aurora borealis, a.k.a. northern lights — caused by the interaction between CME-generated charged particles and the Earth’s atmosphere — are likely to occur.