Aurora in the news again

With a solar activity maximum expected in 2013, when disruption of radio signals and damage to satellites will be at its highest for the decade or so long solar activity cycle, the dangers of a large burst of space weather hitting our digitised world have filtered through to the political world.

On the 24th of July, I noted that briefings on space weather had been prepared by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. Two explanations for this are that they were an updated general training document or, more usually, had been ordered by a minister. This is the area of physics hammered by cuts during 2007 during the formation of the STFC (research council in charge of astronomy and particle physics funding), whose concentration on space weather was described at the time as ‘bizare’ by parliament.

Now it seems the Secretary of State for Defence, Dr Sir Liam Fox, is in at least partial agreement. At a conference organised by the Electric Infrastructure Security Council and the Henry Jackson Society (a political think tank), he argued that the increasing complexity of modern technology married to the threat of a high impact, low frequency event puts the country at risk. Measures taken to mitigate the risk must be put in place to prevent enemies exploiting such a thing.

Of course, if you want the aurora to be seen as a thing of beauty rather than an ominous sign of disturbances in space, then there’s always this website, known as AuroraMax and created by the Canadian Space Agency, showing auroral activity in Canada.

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