A Perfect Storm of Planetary Proportions

The approach of the solar maximum is an urgent reminder that power grids everywhere are more vulnerable than ever to geomagnetic effects

11 min read
Illustration of a solar storm
Illustration: Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA

Luminous fingers of intense red, green, and violet light flicker and pulse across the northern and southern skies like a vast cosmic conflagration. Within minutes, millions of people are tweeting, texting, and blogging about the wondrous sight. But then the sky turns a deep blood red, and fascination turns to panic.

Linked to the celestial spectacle are enormous fluctuations of the magnetic field in Earth's magnetosphere, which are causing immense flows of electric current in the upper atmosphere over much of the planet. Those huge currents disturb Earth's normally quiescent magnetic field, which in turn induces surges of current in electrical, telecommunications, and other networks across entire continents. Streetlights flicker out; electricity is lost. A massive planetary blackout has occurred, leaving vast swaths of North and South America, Europe, Australia, and Asia without power.

Keep reading... Show less

Stay ahead of the latest trends in technology. Become an IEEE member.

This article is for IEEE members only. Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

Before Ships Used GPS, There was the Fresnel Lens

This bright idea revolutionized lighthouses and saved lives

3 min read
 A Fresnel lens at the Seguin Island Light Station in Maine.

The Fresnel lens used in the Seguin Island Light Station in Georgetown, Maine.

Edwin Remsberg/AP

Ships today use satellite-based radio navigation, GPS, and other tools to prevent accidents. But back at the beginning of the 19th century, lighthouses guided ships away from rocky shores using an oil lamp placed between a concave mirror and a glass lens to produce a beam of light.

The mirrors were not very effective, though, and the lenses were murky. The light was difficult to see from a distance on a clear night, let alone in heavy fog or a storm.

Keep Reading ↓ Show less

Researchers Develop Smaller Photonic Topological Insulator

A novel device covers a wider range of frequencies and could boost 5G, radar, and quantum computers

3 min read
Illustration shows a gold surface marked to show non-overlapping clock generator 12.5% duty cycle clocks and to the left 2GHz cock input. Rising from 4 sections each containing 4 triangles are 12 cylinders .

Conceptual diagram of the Floquet TI implemented in a 45 nm silicon-on-insulator CMOS process.

CUNY/Nature Electronics

Novel devices known as photonic topological electromagnetic circuits may one day support 5G wireless broadband networks and advanced radar systems, a new study finds.

Topology is the branch of mathematics that explores what features of shapes may survive deformation. For instance, an object shaped like a doughnut can be deformed into the shape of a mug, so that the doughnut’s hole forms the hole in the cup’s handle. However, the object couldn’t lose its hole without changing into a fundamentally different shape.

Keep Reading ↓ Show less

Why Battery Energy Storage Is Moving to Higher DC Voltages

Download this free whitepaper to learn how battery energy storage up to 1500 VDC can deliver power efficiencies and cost reductions

1 min read

The explosive growth of the battery energy storage industry has created a need for higher DC voltages in utility-scale applications.

Download this free whitepaper and learn how you can achieve a smooth transfer of power, efficiencies and cost reductions with battery energy storage system components up to1500 VDC.