Monday, May 28, 2012

Apocalypse Any Minute: The Sun Storm Scenario

Add to the list of mortal threats to the continued existence of the industrial age another inevitable, natural event to which we have exposed the throat of our machine.

You may know about the threat of solar storms — I wrote about it here in January of 2011 (“A Solar Powered Blackout”) — but did you know that one of the consequences of a strong one will be the moral equivalent of a nuclear war — a kind of Chernobyl times 100?

To review, briefly: The kind of solar storm that is dangerous to Earth is an interplanetary eruption of plasma and electromagnetic radiation called a coronal mass eruption, or CME. CMEs appear to be related to, and to have causes similar to, solar flares. Both CMEs and solar flares tend to appear in and around sunspots. During periods of elevated solar activity, like now, there are on average three CMEs per day. Beyond that, we don’t know much.

Except that when a CME occurs on a portion of the sun facing earth, and the eruption scores a direct hit on our planet’s electromagnetic field, there is, as they say, hell to pay. For most of us. Australian Bushmen who have kept to the old ways, Old-Order Mennonites and other dwellers off the grid who are not flying, at sea or in cities will be fine. The rest of us will first enjoy a spectacular display of the Northern and Southern Lights, and then lose our electricity, GPS, cell phone and satellite communications, broadcast services, Internet, air traffic control — and our composure. Read More