We don't often think of the Sun's solar flares as a looming threat, but increased activity can wreak havoc our communications, electronics and even our power grid. With mounting worries that a massive flare could be in our immediate future, NASA is working on a plan that could keep us up and running.
Called Solar Shield, NASA will in effect create the same kind of defense we have against monsoons, hurricanes and the like: early warning. The agency hopes to be able to spot the kind of harmful streams of energized particles solar flares produce 24 to 48 hours in advance, and then enact emergency protocols in the area that could be effected. An area's power company, for instance, could shut off its share of the grid so that it can be safely turned on after a storm rather than getting knocked out.
This could help us effectively react against the kind of damage solar flares have caused in the past, such as in 1989 in Canada, when Quebec saw its power knocked out, or in 1859, when flare activity caused telegraph systems to spark and paper to spontaneously combust, severely disrupting communication in the U.S.
The Solar Shield comes just in time, too, as space agencies around the world have warned that we could be in for some solar chop come 2011 or 2013.