7 Sep 2015

NZ scientists research risk from solar tsunamis

3:45 pm on 7 September 2015

Scientists in Dunedin and Wellington are leading a new research project into solar tsunamis.

Solar tsunamis are powerful bursts of radiation that blast out of the sun every few years.

The radiation is caused by giant sun spots - or solar flares - and pulses through space, reaching Earth in a couple of days.

This NASA image obtained June 27, 2015 shows The sun as it emitted a mid-level solar flare, an M7.9-class, peaking at 4:16 a.m. EDT on June 25, 2015.

A solar flare photographed by NASA in June Photo: AFP

This radiation can be deadly to astronauts and was the subject of a harrowing science fiction film called Knowing, starring Nicholas Cage, in which solar radiation destroys life on earth.

But their main impact is a so-called geomagnetic storm, which can harm telecommunications and electrical transmission networks.

The New Zealand research, which is aided by British specialists, is focused on the risk to the country's national grid from such an event.

It is intended to help Transpower develop real-time mechanisms to deal with extreme solar tsunamis and help the system here to withstand their impact.

The research project is being supported by Transpower and is getting funding from the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment, worth $1,467,000.

The research is being led by Professor Craig Rodger from the Department of Physics University of Otago and Malcom Ingham, a senior lecturer in Physics at Victoria University.