06/06/2013 06:48 BST | Updated 06/06/2013 06:49 BST

Space Weather As Big A Threat As Tornadoes, Says Nasa

As if we didn't have enough to deal with looking out for tsunamis, tornadoes and earthquakes, Nasa are now telling us that space weather is at least as big an issue for humanity.

Space officials met in Washington on Tuesday to discuss the threat posed by extra-terrestrial phenomena, particularly solar flares.

Already this year a huge flare caused a radio blackout on Earth as well as damaging a number of satellites.

space weather threat

DOOM!! (possibly)

Madhulika Guhathakurta, a heliophysics scientist at NASA headquarters, said: "This really drove the point home that we have arrived at the age of interplanetary space weather forecasting

Guhathakurta ominously described space weather "a daunting problem".

The effects we have seen this year are dwarfed by those in the past Nasa points out:

  • The Carrington superflare of 1859 set fire to telegraph stations in North America and Europe, according to some reports, and sparked Northern Lights as far south as Cuba and Tahiti.
  • The Quebec blackout of 1989 cut power and heat to millions of people in Canada and caused more than 200 electrical anomalies across grids in the United States.
  • The Halloween storms of 2003 temporarily disabled instruments on dozens of Earth-orbiting satellites, with some experiencing permanent damage.

Solar flares are unpredictable and can happen at any time making forecasting nigh on impossible.

As Janet Kozyra, a research professor at the University of Michigan, said: "There are a lot of unknowns in the system that we don’t understand."