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The sun is currently ramping up to hit the peak of its 11-year activity cycle, and in the past few days, powerful solar eruptions have sent a stream of particles towards Earth. These geomagnetic storms are set to produce spectacular auroras in both hemispheres, but they can also have less appealing consequences. Dr. Lisa Upton, a solar scientist at the Southwest Research Institute, spoke to Madeleine Finlay about how the mysterious inner workings of the sun create space weather, how solar events can significantly disrupt Earth’s infrastructure, and whether we are prepared for the worst-case scenario.

Dr. Upton explains that space weather events like solar eruptions are caused by complex processes within the sun. These processes send particles hurtling towards Earth, impacting communication systems, satellites, and power grids. Understanding these processes is crucial for predicting and mitigating the impacts of such events on human infrastructure.

The conversation also highlights the importance of preparing for worst-case scenarios when it comes to space weather. Dr. Upton discusses the potential consequences of a major solar event and the challenges we may face in protecting critical infrastructure from the aftermath. It becomes clear that early warning systems and improved communication between scientific researchers and policymakers are crucial for developing effective strategies for dealing with extreme space weather events.

As we continue to monitor this 11-year activity cycle of the sun, it is important to remember that while these geomagnetic storms can be beautiful to behold from a scientific perspective, they also pose significant risks to our technological infrastructure and human society as a whole.

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