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“A solar flare so epic it would knock out most modern technology.”


Say goodbye to your laptop. Say goodbye to your air conditioner. In fact, say goodbye to technology and electricity for a long, long time, because the earth has a roughly 12 percent chance of experiencing a massive solar storm within the next decade, says space physicist Pete Riley, senior scientist at Predictive Science in San Diego, California.

Such an event could potentially cause trillions of dollars’ worth of damage and take a decade to repair.


Sun-Earth Comparison - Credit: NASA via ddp images


Luckily, such an extreme event is relatively rare. The last giant solar storm, the Carrington Event, which occurred more than 150 years ago, was the most powerful such event in recorded history.

On the morning of  September 1, 1859, an enormous solar flare erupted from the sun’s surface, emitting a particle stream at the Earth traveling more than 4 million miles per hour.

During the event, named after astronomer Richard Carrington, telegraph systems all over Europe and North America failed, in some cases even shocking telegraph operators. “Telegraph pylons threw sparks and telegraph paper spontaneously caught fire. Some telegraph systems appeared to continue to send and receive messages despite having been disconnected from their power supplies.” (Wikipedia)

At the same time, magnetic observatories recorded disturbances in the Earth’s field that literally went off the scale.

That there’s a greater than 10 percent chance of another Carrington-type event happening in the next 10 years was surprising to Riley,  who published his scary estimate in Space Weather on 23 Feb 2012.

“Even if it’s off by a factor of two, that’s a much larger number than I thought,” said Riley.


Solar flare pictured by Solar Heliospheric Observatory on 23 Jan 2012. ( SOHO/ESA & NASA / Courtesy )


During solar maximum, enormous solar flares occasionally burst outward from the sun, spewing a mass of charged particles out into space.  When they hit the Earth’s atmosphere, those charged particles generate the undulating ribbons of light known as auroras.

The charged particles in auroras can wreak havoc on electrical grids and may contribute to the erosion of oil and gas pipelines. They can disrupt GPS satellites and disturb or even completely black out radio communication on Earth.

During a geomagnetic storm in 1989, for instance, Canada’s Hydro-Quebec power grid collapsed within 90 seconds, leaving millions without power for up to nine hours.

The potential damage in the U.S. of a Carrington-type solar storm might be between $1 trillion and $2 trillion in the first year alone, with full recovery taking an estimated four to 10 years, according to a 2008 report from the National Research Council.

“Impacts would be felt on interdependent infrastructures, with, for example, potable water distribution affected within several hours; perishable foods and medications lost in about 12-24 hours; and immediate or eventual loss of heating/air conditioning, sewage disposal, phone service, transportation, fuel resupply, and so on.”

Transformer damage is the most likely outcome. “These multi-ton apparatus generally cannot be repaired in the field, and if damaged in this manner, they need to be replaced with new units, which have manufacture lead times of 12 months or more.”

That’s if they have the electricity available with which to manufacture them.

Meanwhile, an Earth Island article notes a much scarier reality than losing access to the Internet. “A 2011 Oak Ridge National Laboratory report warned of a 33 percent likelihood that a solar flare could lead to ‘long-term power loss’ over a nuclear reactor’s life. With 440 nuclear power plants in 30 countries, and 250 research reactors, there are nearly 700 potential Fukushimas waiting to be unleashed.”

See more here:
http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/02/massive-solar-flare/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=socialmedia&utm_campaign=twitterclickthru

And here:
http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/weird-wide-web/potential-solar-
flare-could-knock-out-the-modern-world

And here:
http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12507&page=77

See eight photos:
http://www.globalpost.com/photo-galleries/5688701/photos-what-solar-flare-and-how-will-it-affect-earth

Thanks to Alan Caruba and Steven Woodcock for these links

 

 

27 Responses to 1 in 8 odds of catastrophic solar storm within 10 years

  1. crabalocker says:

    I wonder if he was one of the scientists that predicted solar cycle 24 would be off the charts? The top end…..not the bottom end.

    • Rosco says:

      Perhaps a weak solar cycle makes mass ejections more likely because there is less “venting” of the power flux by smaller more regular events – sort of like a covered pot boils more vigourously.

      Just speculating – what would I know ?

    • Fran says:

      Precisely. It won’t happen for at least *many decades* this is what the non-hype scientific analysis (including all cycles of the Sun) say.
      We are in a grand minimum already, but we have to give a discount at last NASA (and spaceweather.com) keep making predictions that do not happen.
      They don’t know the meaning of the word “cycles” or they seem to think that it does not apply to our Sun.
      For them the Sun is a big bomb (H-bomb) exploding over our heads all the time, therefore there is no good reason for it randomly get “out of control” like any chaotic system would.
      “During solar maximum, enormous solar flares occasionally burst outward from the sun…”
      I agree, but only if the maximum does not occur during a low/very low cycle.
      We are NOT in a typical “solar maximum” and these enormous flares are NOT happening now. Notice that the Carrington Event happened nearly 40 years *after* the Dalton minimum.
      This “big explosion of the Sun” hype is just like GW, a projection based on wrong models, but people believe what they want to believe and usually there is not too much we can do about it.
      To have a better idea of what is happening, please check the following interesting GLP thread (from 2008-2009) and links there
      http://www.godlikeproductions.com/forum1/message1178901/pg1

      and also the following threads of WUWT,
      from Aug/2011:
      http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/08/09/latest-solar-cycle-numbers-the-doldrums-continue/#more-44820

      and from few days ago:
      http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/03/02/the-sun-is-still-in-a-funk-sunspot-numbers-are-dropping-when-they-should-be-rising/

      We *are* entering a grand minimum, all evidence indicates that. If the “great flare” didn’t happen in the last century (after 1920) it certainly won’t happen now.

  2. Robertvdl says:

    According to NASA, there is a distinct possibility that an asteroid recently identified by star gazers in Spain could hit Earth around February 15, 2013. Based on its size and trajectory, it’s estimated that the 60 to 100 meter wide asteroid, dubbed 2012 DA14, could be similar in scope and devastation to Tunguska should it enter our atmosphere.

    http://www.infowars.com/trajectory-unclear-feb-2013-asteroid-will-be-within-thousands-of-miles-of-earth-impact-would-be-as-big-as-siberian-tunguska-event-1000-times-more-powerful-than-hiroshima/

    http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/sbdb.cgi?sstr=2012+DA14;orb=1

  3. Rosco says:

    Nothing to worry about – everybody knows the Sun’s power here on Earth is so meek and mild it needs the help of greenhouse gases to even keep the place warm.

  4. Robertvdl says:

    STRONG SOLAR ACTIVITY
    http://spaceweather.com/

    Big sunspot AR1429, which emerged on March 2nd, is crackling with strong flares. This morning brought the strongest so far–an X1-class eruption on March 5th at 0413 UT.

  5. george wells says:

    If there was a flare, what is the likelihood that it would eject towards earth? There are 360 degrees in a circle. Are ejections predictable in any way as to direction?
    With so many things, its probably just fear mongering.

    • John Knowles says:

      Most flares occur in the suns equatorial and mid-latitudes so there is a definite chance that one day we will cop a full frontal hit. As our protective magnetosphere continues to fade the likelihood of a damaging CME increases marginally.
      Piers Corbyn at Imperial College seems to have a quiet handle on predicting our not-so-stable star.

    • Yes, 360 degrees in a circle, but the sun is a sphere. So I would guess that “the likelihood that it would eject towards earth” is even smaller.

  6. QuentinF says:

    Allot of might and could..but will it? The wired system in the 1850s was pretty crude compared with now. The only way an effect is by induced currents from the H field from solar proton flux. Possible damage to long wires of electric power grids. Most modern electronics is EM shielded therefore very unlikely that these fields would damage them. Also no damage will occur to fibre optic cables. How much the orbital GPS and other nav system satellites will get would be known by the designer engineers who will have anticipated these events as a possibility. I think the whole disaster scenario from flares is over exagerated.

    • Laurel says:

      sorry but MOST electric/electronics is NOT adequately shielded to withstand extreme electro magnetic blasts.
      most modern cars etc as well as planes etc.
      anything with electronics is at risk.
      nasa will tell you if you read carefully.
      only the supe duper stuff of the military etc is shielded that well its expensive to do so.
      the engineeers etc who design home commercial use do NOT take stuff like this into account.

    • John Knowles says:

      I agree, – definite possibility but over-hyped. Satellites are built to withstand cosmic radiations but a mega-flare such as that 1859 event would destroy their micro-processors.
      That flare took 17 hrs to get here so we’d have plenty of time to unplug every power-point and phone line and disconnect our household earth-bond stakes.In lightning prone areas disconnection from earth is necessary to avoid IT damage but is technically illegal in Australia.
      Micro electronic components from the 555 timer chip in my alarm clock to the G4 in my computer would be the most susceptible to power surges.
      Like Y2K we can circumvent “end of the world” bed-wetting.

  7. Beano says:

    NASA are expecting some sort of CME/Solar flare at any time. Not as big as the Carrington event but still capable of doing some damage.
    Note that a large event is expected with a one in eight percent chance in ten years. This expectation increases after that 10 years arrives. In short odds on before 50 years is up.

    Make no mistake. A Carrington flare in our times will be an E.L.E. – Extinction Level Event.

    • Joe says:

      There are simply too many people on earth for this event to be considered an extinction level event. It would likely be the end of western civilization but not the end of human kind.

  8. Robert the Philippino says:

    What he means is this:
    A real serious (potentially lethal) terrestrial hazard is a Galactic core explosion that produces a cosmic super-wave that would also generate Electro-Magnetic-Pulse (EMP) effects.
    http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2009/23dec_voyager/

  9. Robert the Philippino says:

    Here is an explanation on YouTube
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yKMlHzKmCQU&feature=player_embedded#!

  10. Laurel says:

    I recommend checking into spaceweather.com
    the present facing sunspots a biggie and not a quiet one. the X1 bust may not be the only one it spits our way.

  11. Laurel says:

    SPACE WEATHER
    NOAA Forecasts
    Updated at: 2012 Mar 05 2200 UTC
    FLARE

    0-24 hr

    24-48 hr
    CLASS M

    75 %

    75 %
    CLASS X

    30 %

    30 %

    I have NEVER seen such high percentages listed, concurrently. 30% chance of X class I would cancel any flights personally.

  12. This is 2012 the year of solar maximum and yet the sun is sooo sleepy. Starting next year the sun will get even colder into another minimum. Damaging super-solarflares simply won´t happen as long as the sun is in this state, but the cooling of Earth will worsen.

  13. This is an event, if it happens, that can wipe out the entire population on earth. What I am thinking about is our sharp learning curve after the Fukushima disaster. Three reactor cores went imediately into meltdown because the cooling systems were destroyed, partly because of fractures in the piping system, and also that the electrical support systems were shut down.

    One of my important learning was, after the explosion in reactor 3 (mox fuel rods in the pool), Monday 16., when debries of the spent fuel rods went into the air; spent fuel rods are stored on the top of the reactors in water pools, and the heat from the pools is moved away by electrical pumps, that are circulating the water through cooling towers. Further, what was learned, that the nuclear industry, 400 to 500 plants world wide I think, are mostly storing their spent fuel rods on the top of the reactors. Their cooling systems are based on electrical pumps, the reactor cores and the pools. They have no gravity based reservoirs that can jump in if the electrical systems fail.

    For me, as a retired plant engineer, this is insane. Electrical failures are the most common cause of unexpected shut downs in industrial plants. Our gravity based cooling system, saved us many times when unexpected electrical failures occured.

  14. C. Peter Davis says:

    They KNOW this is coming and yet all Earth’s technology is dependent on COMPUTERS. All computer and digital technology will be destroyed when this event happens. Why are we deliberately building technology that will cause unimaginable harm?

  15. Robertvdl says:

    MAJOR SOLAR FLARE: Big sunspot AR1429 has unleashed another major flare. This one is the strongest yet, an X5-class eruption on March 7th at 00:28 UT. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the extreme UV flash:

    http://spaceweather.com/

    This eruption hurled a bright CME into space. First-look data from STEREO-B are not sufficient to determine if the cloud is heading for Earth. Our best guess is “probably, yes, but not directly toward Earth.” A glancing blow to our planet’s magnetosphere is possible on March 8th or 9th.


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