This is Scientific American's 60-Second Science. I'm Maria Temming. Got a minute?
Our sun has a nasty habit of spitting volatile material at us.
These incredibly hot bubbles of magnetized material are called coronal mass ejections, or CMEs.
And they can hurtle towards Earth at thousands of miles per second.
If one of a CME's magnetic fields is aligned in just the wrong way when the ejection reaches Earth,
it could cause a magnetic storm that can temporarily disrupt the planet's magnetic field.
Such a storm has the potential to wreak havoc on technologies like GPS satellites and utility grids, messing up radio transmissions and causing blackouts.
Currently, satellites can only tease out the orientations of magnetic fields inside an approaching CME when it's already closing in on Earth.
We'd have about an hour's notice of an impending space storm, hardly enough time for anyone to take the necessary protective measures.
But a team led by space scientist Neel Savani, of NASA and the University of Maryland, have developed a new technique that might be able to give us a lot more lead time.
Their model uses observations of the CME's magnetic field orientations during the initial eruption and as it careens toward Earth,
which can offer clues about what those orientations will be when they get here.
The researchers describe their work in the journal Space Weather.
Savani has already tested out his model's predictive power on eight mass ejections.
He claims significant improvement over current forecasting systems.
At the very least, better advance warning would give people more time to finally back up their hard drives before the grid goes down.
Thanks for the minute, for Scientific American's 60-Second Science. I'm Maria Temming.