"Various groups within the U.N., such as the World Meteorological Organization, International Civil Air Organization, and the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, all global committees, are now all bringing in space weather because of their concerns or impacts on technology," said Bill Murtagh of the Space Weather Prediction Center.
Beginning this term Penn State is offering a class for meteorology and electrical engineering students to learn how emissions can affect the atmosphere and technology.
"We've had courses along these lines for 50 years," said Dr. Tim Kane, an electrical engineering professor at Penn State teaching the new space weather class. "But this space weather class from a meteorology or what I would call an operational or forecasting point of view was a great opportunity."
After Murtagh spoke at Penn State in February 2012, PSU meteorology junior Andrea Karelitz began lobbying for a space weather class.
"Penn State's one of the top meteorology undergraduate programs in the country, and the fact that from the meteorologist's perspective, there wasn't much of a space weather involvement course or anything," said Karelitz, now a senior. "I think it was really necessary for meteorology students at Penn State to have the knowledge of space weather."
Karelitz talked with professors who agreed the subject is worth exploring.
"It fits right in to our flexibility that we have in our curriculum to offer a course like this when students demand it and we have the faculty expertise to do it," said Dr. Jon Nese, Associate Head of Undergraduate Programs with PSU's Meteorology Department.
"When a student drives a class to be formed, the positive energy is fantastic," said Dr. Kane. He confirmed Murtagh will be speaking at Penn State again Friday, April 12th.
Students in the class are learning how a geomagnetic storm would not only affect GPS satellites, but communications and air travel over the North Pole.
"Airlines need to communicate with the ground during space weather storms," said Murtagh. "Sometimes that's impossible so they need to take various actions to ensure safety of passengers and crew."
"Electromagnetics is how we communicate with each other," said electrical engineering senior Michael Ryder. "Essentially when a large space weather event happens, that's exactly what's going to be caused by it, the electromagnetic interference. And that can blow out grids communication-wise."
If a geomagnetic storm is strong enough, the power grid would be affected.
"It's not a theory, back in March of '89 we had an intense geomagnetic storm induced currents and brought the grid down in Montreal, Quebec," said Murtagh.
Current plans have the course being offered every other year, but may expand for other departments in the future.
"I think the demand will spread beyond the meteorology department," said Dr. Kane. "Aerospace engineering, electrical engineering; we have the applied research lab here at Penn State, and perhaps we'll see some demand from there."
"If Dr. Kane is willing to offer this course every other semester or every other year, there will be students who want to take it," said Dr. Nese.
"Coming out of Penn State with a meteorology degree, you have a great knowledge of the atmosphere, what the dynamics processes that happen in the atmosphere, and as you go in the workforce, you're kind of the scientist at your news station or at your company." said Karelitz.