Obama Orders Government Plan for 'Extreme Space Weather'

space weather barack obama
An active region on the sun emitting a mid-level solar flare is seen in an image captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) November 5, 2014. President Barack Obama is calling for preparations to be made to mitigate the effects of extreme weather events. REUTERS/NASA/SDO

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for preparations to be made for "extreme space weather events," such as solar flares capable of causing catastrophic damage to Earth's critical infrastructure.

An executive order was issued Thursday, October 14, that outlined the country's contingency plan in the event such weather events lead to significant disruption to systems like the electrical power grid, satellite operations or aviation.

"Space weather has the potential to simultaneously affect and disrupt health and safety across entire continents," the order states.

"It is the policy of the United States to prepare for space weather events to minimize the extent of economic loss and human hardship."

Obama's order warns that if large portions of the nation's electrical power grid is knocked out by a large solar flare, it would result in cascading failures that would affect key services, such as water supply, healthcare and transportation.

Preparing a response for an event of this kind is described in the order as an "all-of-nation endeavor" that requires cooperation between government agencies like NASA, the media, academia, the insurance industry, non-profits and the private sector.

The space weather referred to in the order also includes temporary disturbances to the Earth's magnetic field caused by solar activity, as well as something known as solar energetic particles, which are ions and electrons ejected from the sun.

Solar flares are common occurrences and rarely cause any knock-on effects on Earth. They refer to brief eruptions of intense energy on or near the Sun's surface that are typically associated with sunspots.

Perhaps the most famous incident of space weather having dramatic consequences on Earth was a solar storm in 1859 known as the Carrington Event. Auroras were seen as far south as the Caribbean and telegraph systems across Europe and North America failed.

Following the publication of Obama's order, the secretary of energy is now set to consult with the secretary of homeland security to test and evaluate devices that could mitigate the effects of severe storm weather.