The little-known Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado, won’t close its doors during the U.S. government shutdown.
And that may be a very good thing.
The center, part of the National Weather Service, predicts solar storms that might cause power outages, satellite issues and airplane communication blackouts. Never mind the fact that there’s a small storm on its way that may begin disturbing the Earth’s magnetic field tomorrow morning Eastern Daylight Time.
Power grids, the Federal Aviation Administration and carriers such as United Airlines depend on the space-weather center’s alerts. With the warnings, planes can be rerouted and grids can plan ahead.
The general public will likely never notice most geomagnetic storms, including the one that’s about to strike, said Joe Kunches, a space scientist and spokesman for the center. Some scientists, though, have warned that a major solar eruption — should it occur — could result in widespread damage to power grids and communications systems.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, part of the Commerce Department, posted online notices announcing that its Web-site and “most associated web sites” aren’t available.
Web-sites for the National Hurricane Center and the Space Weather Prediction Center were among those remaining open, because they provide information that “is necessary to protect life and property.”
Watching the sun — all day — is one of those essential functions.
“We are the only government agency that does this 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the general public,” Kunches said in a phone interview.