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The sun is always showering Earth with a mist of magnetized particles known as solar wind. For the most part, our planet’s magnetic shield blocks this electric wind from doing any real damage to Earth or its inhabitants, instead sending those particles skittering toward the poles and leaving behind a pleasant aurora in their wake.
But sometimes, every century or so, that wind escalates into a full-blown solar storm — and, as new research presented at the SIGCOMM 2021 data communication conference warns, the results of such extreme space weather could be catastrophic to our modern way of life.
In short, a severe solar storm could plunge the world into an “internet apocalypse” that keeps large swaths of society offline for weeks or months at a time, Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi, an assistant professor at the University of California, Irvine, wrote in the new research paper. (The paper has yet to appear in a peer-reviewed journal).
“What really got me thinking about this is that with the pandemic we saw how unprepared the world was. There was no protocol to deal with it effectively, and it’s the same with internet resilience,” Abdu Jyothi told WIRED. “Our infrastructure is not prepared for a large-scale solar event.”
Part of the problem is that extreme solar storms (also called coronal mass ejections) are relatively rare; scientists estimate the probability of an extreme space weather directly impacting Earth to be between 1.6% to 12% per decade, according to Abdu Jyothi’s paper.
In recent history, only two such storms have been recorded — one in 1859 and the other in 1921. The earlier incident, known as the Carrington Event, created such a severe geomagnetic disturbance on Earth that telegraph wires burst into flame, and auroras — usually only visible near the planet’s poles — were spotted near equatorial Colombia. Smaller storms can also pack a punch; one in March 1989 blacked out the entire Canadian province of Quebec for nine hours.
Since then, human civilization has become much more reliant on the global internet, and the potential impacts of a massive geomagnetic storm on that new infrastructure remain largely unstudied, Abdu Jyothi said. In her new paper, she tried to pinpoint the greatest vulnerabilities in that infrastructure.
The good news is, local and regional internet connections are likely at low risk of being damaged because fiber-optic cables themselves aren’t affected by geomagnetically induced currents, according to the paper.
However, the long undersea internet cables that connect continents are a different story. These cables are equipped with repeaters to boost the optical signal, spaced at intervals of roughly 30 to 90 miles (50 to 150 kilometers). These repeaters are vulnerable to geomagnetic currents, and entire cables could be made useless if even one repeater goes offline, according to the paper.
If enough undersea cables fail in a particular region, then entire continents could be cut off from one another, Abdu Jyothi wrote. What’s more, nations at high latitudes — such as the U.S. and the U.K. — are far more susceptible to solar weather than nations at lower latitudes. In the event of a catastrophic geomagnetic storm, it’s those high-latitude nations that are most likely to be cut off from the network first. It’s hard to predict how long it would take to repair underwater infrastructure, but Abdu Jyothi suggests that large-scale internet outages that last weeks or months are possible.
In the meantime, millions of people could lose their livelihoods.
“The economic impact of an Internet disruption for a day in the US is estimated to be over $7 billion,” Abdu Jyothi wrote in her paper. “What if the network remains non-functional for days or even months?”
If we don’t want to find out, then grid operators need to start taking the threat of extreme solar weather seriously as global internet infrastructure inevitably expands. Laying more cables at lower latitudes is a good start, Abdu Jyothi said, as is developing resilience tests that focus on the effects of large-scale network failures.
When the next big solar storm does blast out of our star, people on Earth will have about 13 hours to prepare for its arrival, she added. Let’s hope we’re ready to make the most of that time when it inevitably arrives.
Originally published on Live Science.
Fossilized footprints discovered in New Mexico indicate that early humans were walking across North America around 23,000 years ago, researchers reported Thursday.
The first footprints were found in a dry lake bed in White Sands National Park in 2009. Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey recently analyzed seeds stuck in the footprints to determine their approximate age, ranging from around 22,800 and 21,130 years ago.
The findings may shed light on a mystery that has long intrigued scientists: When did people first arrive in the Americas, after dispersing from Africa and Asia?
Most scientists believe ancient migration came by way of a now-submerged land bridge that connected Asia to Alaska. Based on various evidence — including stone tools, fossil bones and genetic analysis — other researchers have offered a range of possible dates for human arrival in the Americas, from 13,000 to 26,000 years ago or more.
The current study provides a more solid baseline for when humans definitely were in North America, although they could have arrived even earlier, the authors say. Fossil footprints are more indisputable and direct evidence than “cultural artifacts, modified bones, or other more conventional fossils,” they wrote in the journal Science, which published the study Thursday.
“What we present here is evidence of a firm time and location,” they said.
Based on the size of the footprints, researchers believe that at least some were made by children and teenagers who lived during the last ice age.
David Bustos, the park’s resource program manager, spotted the first footprints in ancient wetlands in 2009. He and others found more in the park over the years.
“We knew they were old, but we had no way to date the prints before we discovered some with (seeds) on top,” he said Thursday.
Made of fine silt and clay, the footprints are fragile, so the researchers had to work quickly to gather samples, Bustos said.
“The only way we can save them is to record them — to take a lot of photos and make 3D models,” he said.
Earlier excavations in White Sands National Park have uncovered fossilized tracks left by a saber-toothed cat, dire wolf, Columbian mammoth and other ice age animals.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Tampa, Florida (WFLA) — SpaceX made history on Wednesday night when it launched the world’s first all-civil mission to get going from the Space Coast, Florida.
The Inspiration4 mission took off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center around 8:03 pm on Wednesday. The four crew members on the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft were launched onto a reusable Falcon 9 rocket and later separated from the spacecraft and landed on the drone.
The mission’s five-hour launch window began at 8:02 EST. The window was very large, as the crew was sent to orbit the Earth rather than the International Space Station, and therefore did not have such strict time constraints.
The crew is set to travel 350 miles above the surface of the Earth, about 100 miles higher than the International Space Station.
“This is important and historic, because it’s the best time humans have been in orbit since the Hubble Space Telescope mission,” said Benjireed, SpaceX’s manned spaceflight director.
The crew will spend three days in orbit to participate in research experiments on human health and performance. We hope that the results of our research will apply not only to future space flight, but also to human health here on Earth.
Inspiration4’s main goal is to provide and inspire support for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. They want to raise $ 200 million for St. Jude in a three-day mission.
According to SpaceX, each of the four members of the crew was chosen to represent the pillars of a mission of prosperity, generosity, hope and leadership. The Inspiration 4 crew and the pillars they represent are:
SpaceX trained all four crew members as commercial astronauts on Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft. The crew was trained in orbital mechanics, microgravity, weightlessness, other stress tests, emergency preparedness, and spacesuit training.
The mission was funded by Isaacman in a private transaction with SpaceX. Isaacman has also invested $ 100 million towards a funding target for the St. Jude mission.
Inspiration4 Lift Off: SpaceX Launches World’s First All-Citizen Mission in Earth’s Orbit
Source link Inspiration4 Lift Off: SpaceX Launches World’s First All-Citizen Mission in Earth’s Orbit
Researchers have created a winged microchip around the size of a sand grain that may be the smallest flying device yet made, Vice has reported. They’re designed to be carried around by the wind and could be used in numerous applications including disease and air pollution tracking, according to a paper published by Nature. At the same time, they could be made from biodegradable materials to prevent environmental contamination.
The design of the flyers was inspired by spinning seeds from cottonwood and other trees. Those fall slowly by spinning like helicopters so they can be picked up by the wind and spread a long distance from the tree, increasing the range of the species.
The team from Northwest University ran with that idea but made it better, and smaller. “We think we’ve beaten biology… we’ve been able to build structures that fall in a more stable trajectory at slower terminal velocities than equivalent seeds,” said lead Professor John A. Rogers. “The other thing… was that we were able to make these helicopter flyer structures that are much smaller than seeds you would see in the natural world.”
They’re not so small that the aerodynamics starts to break down, though. “All of the advantages of the helicopter design begin to disappear below a certain length scale, so we pushed it all the way, as far as you can go or as physics would allow,” Rogers told Vice. “Below that size scale, everything looks and falls like a sphere.”
The devices are also large enough to carry electronics, sensors and power sources. The team tested multiple versions that could carry payloads like antenna so that they could wireless communicate with a smartphone or each other. Other sensors could monitor things like air acidity, water quality and solar radiation.
The flyers are still concepts right now and not ready to deploy into the atmosphere, but the team plans to expand their findings with different designs. Key to that is the use of biodegradable materials so they wouldn’t persist in the environment.
“We don’t think about these devices… as a permanent monitoring componentry but rather temporary ones that are addressing a particular need that’s of finite time duration,” Rogers said. “That’s the way that we’re envisioning things currently: you monitor for a month and then the devices die out, dissolve, and disappear, and maybe you have to redeploy them.”
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