Earlier this week experts met at the Space Weather Enterprise Forum in Washington D.C. to discuss the sensitivity our technological society has to solar storms. The sun is about to become active, which could have terrible effects on Earth's satellites and the everyday gadgets we all use.
"The sun is waking up from a deep slumber and in the next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity." said Richard Fisher head of NASA's Heliophysics Division.
This solar activity or "storm" occurs when sunspots on the star erupt and spew flumes of charged particles that can damage power systems. A major solar storm could cause twenty times more damage than Hurricane Katrina warned the National Academy of Sciences in a 2008 report.
The ability to know what's coming is especially important because much of the damage can be stopped if we know when the storm will hit. Satellites can be put in "safe mode" disconnecting transformers can protect electronics.
"Space Weather Forecasting is still in it's infancy, but we're making rapid progress." says Thomas Bogdan director of the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) both NASA and NOAA manage a fleet of satellites that monitor the sun.
A pair of spacecraft called STEREO is stationed on opposite sides of the sun. In addition, SDO (solar dynamics observatory) is able to photograph solar active regions, and an old satellite called ACE still monitors the winds coming off the sun.