Think Hurricanes Are Bad? Try This!

Astronomers are tracking a giant sunspot. This gigantic magnetic storm, more than seven times larger than the earth, is roiling around on the surface of the sun, threatening to send blasts of highly charged particles our way.

Full story here.

Sunspots are nothing knew. The ancient Mayans may have known about them, and they helped propel the career of Galileo. Before they were uncertain, uncanny objects, but know we know what they are. They are in effect gigantic magnetic storms, caused by the looping and knotting of the Sun's incredible magnetic field. If the Earth were unfortunate enough to find itself in one, it would be torn to pieces.

Sunspots are responsible for most solar flares. While many solar flares are harmless, some do make it to earth with enough power to have an effect. This usually takes the form of brilliant Aurorae. However, every so often a flare arrives with enough energy to damage human technology. The solar storm of 1859 destroyed telegraph equipment over half a continent.

Our current electrical and electronic infrastructure is not prepared to handle a surge of that magnitude. If a storm rivaling or exceeding the strength of the 1859 one were to return, it might devastate civilization. Whole electrical grids and most electronics could be severely damaged or destroyed. It would take months to repair. The damage caused, in dollar terms, would likely exceed the total cost of all preceding natural disasters combined. It is impossible to overstate how devastating such an event would be on modern society.

Fortunately, such extreme events seem to be rare. In addition, one of these monster flares would have to be aimed directly at the Earth, which is unlikely. Shielding all of the electrical equipment on Earth would be ruinously expensive. However, it might be a good idea to double check and make sure that key points, such as broadcast stations, shelters, and hospitals were properly protected. The modest cost involved would be well worth it in case of a world shattering solar storm.

0 Responses

  1. [...] civilization itself. A flare like the most powerful one recorded, the 1859 Carrington Event (see post below), could destroy all the electrical infrastructure across an entire continent. If hundreds of [...]

Leave a comment