Test Cover Image of:  The 23rd Cycle

The 23rd Cycle

Learning to Live with a Stormy Star

A NASA space scientist maps out the coming solar cycle—and its catastrophic potential to disrupt worldwide power and communications systems. He includes a history of the record of auroral sightings, accounts of communications blackouts from the 20th century, industries sensitive to solar storms, and radiation and health issues.
On March 13, 1989, the entire Quebec power grid collapsed, automatic garage doors in California suburbs began to open and close without apparent reason, and microchip production came to a halt in the Northeast; in space, communications satellites had to be manually repointed after flipping upside down, and pressure readings on hydrogen tank supplies on board the Space Shuttle Discovery peaked, causing NASA to consider aborting the mission. What was the cause of all these seemingly disparate events? Sten Odenwald gives convincing evidence of the mischievous—and potentially catastrophic—power of solar storms and the far-reaching effects of the coming "big one" brewing in the sun and estimated to culminate in the twenty-third cycle in the year 2001 and beyond. When the sun undergoes its cyclic "solar maximum," a time when fierce solar flares and storms erupt, fantastic auroras will be seen around the world. But the breathtaking spectacles will herald a potentially disastrous chain of events that merit greater preparation than Y2K. Is anyone listening?The 23rd Cycle traces the previously untold history of solar storms and the ways in which they were perceived by astronomers—and even occasionally covered up by satellite companies. Punctuated with an insert containing dramatic color images showing the erupting sun, the book also includes a history of the record of auroral sightings, accounts of communications blackouts from the twentieth century, a list of industries sensitive to solar storms, and information about radiation and health issues.

Author Information

Sten Odenwald, an astronomer with Raytheon ITSS, is currently the education and public outreach manager for the NASA IMAGE satellite program. He is the author of The Astronomy Cafe.


Neil Bone:A fine summary of space weather effects, and how they work to the detriment of many satellite-based communications systems and, even, technology at ground level. I recommend Odenwald's book as a guide to the subtler, but very important, processes which occur in tandem with spectacular auroral storms.With the Sun about halfway through its 23rd sunspot cycle since the 18th century, there is a chance that solar flares and coronal mass ejections... will affect the Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field... This book presents an interesting explanation of this phenomenon. For astronomy, space science, and engineering collections.Odenwald offers a cogent warning, which deserves to have an impact beyond the book's own immediate readership of space science enthusiasts.T. Eastman:Odenwald (NASA) offers an outstanding nontechnical introduction to the solar-terrestrial environment with a focus on "space weather". He weaves a fascinating story using numerous examples of space weather impacts on human and technological systems. Scientific references are highly accessible and accurate throughout.Odenwald uses a breezy journalistic style as he explores solar eruptions and how these interfere with such vital elements as electrical power grids, long-distance piplines, and navigation.Odenwald... gives us reason to worry about how ill-prepared we are for geomagnetic disturbances in the future. It's scary enough to warrant a Hollywood disaster movie.
Audience: Professional and scholarly;