Solar storms could threaten the safety of trains

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This is according to a study just published in a scientific journal space weather, and solar storm may affect functioning traffic lights who manage railway traffic. Although we are talking about isolated cases, according to research results, these events can interfere with electricity distribution networks and potentially cause a transition from a “stop” signal (red) to a “go” signal (green)and conversely. With obvious implications from a security point of view, as the authors of the study point out.

Solar activity cycle

Solar storms are known to cause formation induced geomagnetic currents (Gics, Geomagnetically Induced Currents), which in turn can interfere, for example, with the functioning of geolocation systems and telecommunication networks. This is especially true when the peak of the solar activity cycle, which occurs roughly every 11 years. According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the next one is expected between January and October 2024.

I am studying

As expected, in this study the research group focused in particular on the possible impact of this type of event on operation of railway security systems. Specifically, the researchers created a computational model that would allow them to evaluate the impact of GICS on the electrical circuits that control the flow of trains on two rail routes that actually exist in the UK: that connecting Preston with Lancaster, two cities located north-west of Manchester, and the line connecting Glasgow with Edinburgh in Scotland. “Essentially, our research suggests that space weather is capable reverse the signal in both directionsmaking a red signal green or a green signal red” explains Cameron Patterson, a PhD student in the Department of Physics at Lancaster University and first author of the study: “This it is of course very important from a security point of view“. Cases of this type could occur in the UK one day, according to the study every 10-20 years.

Past events

In the past, space weather-related events have indeed caused temporary power outages not only in Great Britain but also in other regions. A relatively recent example comes from late October 2003, when a large geomagnetic storm knocked out part of the high voltage grid in the south Swedenand especially in the city of Malmö. Going even further back in time, another example dates back to 1859when a huge solar explosion unleashed a geomagnetic storm that threw the electrical services and telegraph lines Worldwide.

Like ours understanding the risk space weather improves, it is possible to think about how to reduce risks” concludes Jim Wild, professor of space physics at Lancaster University and second author of the study. “In the future, space weather forecasts could be used to make decisions about limiting rail traffic in the event of extreme eventsas is the case with weather forecasts at present“.

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