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How Solar Storms Threaten Earth

On July 23, 2012, the Sun fired out one of the biggest plasma clouds ever detected at 3,000km per second. It missed the earth, but had it occurred a week earlier, life as we know it might well have ground to a halt, hence TEOTWAWKI.

You might think a solar flare is just a scientific term for something that happens far away in a remote part of the galaxy and wouldn't affect you.




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It would have a catastrophic effect on your everyday life and take out many of the systems we take for granted.

Imagine a day where no aircraft can fly, no trains work. You can't take money out at the ATM, the computerized registers in the stores won't work and worst of all, electricity is out across the grid.

solar storms threaten earth

Put simply, if we got hit by a major solar storm, life would be turned back to the pre-industrial age.

If your brow is furrowing at the prospect, then you're in good company. Last summer some of the finest scientific minds on earth got together to look at the issue of solar/magnetic activity.

For them, it was a pretty sobering experience. None had strong links to the subject, but were brought in because they wanted some fresh eyes to look at it. After a couple of weeks these scientists began to realize the seriousness of it.

People worry about asteroids hitting the earth, but that's in the order of a one-in-a-thousand-years event. The solar issue is more likely to hit us once every 100 years.  

On day one, people would be annoyed that the power is off, their phone network is down and the ATMs have stopped working.

Within days, even hours (See Katrina, Ferguson), there would be looting, fuel, food and medical shortages, air travel would be impossible and sanitation systems would be inoperable. Everyone likes a bit of retro, but if that meant the return of diseases we thought we'd eradicated, it wouldn't seem so attractive.

So how does a solar flare emitted by the sun effect life on Earth?

Over the last couple of decades solar scientists have begun to realize just how connected the Earth and the sun are via magnetic fields, these are essentially channels for solar events to stream along, What that does to the Earth's magnetic field is have a major effect on anything tapping into the electromagnetic spectrum.

Electricity and magnetism are very tightly linked; change one and the other is going to change as well. So any form of magnetic activity is going to produce electric fields and those are going to occur around the Earth. They're a problem in that anything electronic taps into them, and a couple of volts in the wrong place and whatever you're holding onto is broken, the circuit burns out.

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Solar activity has been affecting life here since origins, but it's only now that we're tapping into the electromagnetic spectrum that we're particularly vulnerable to it.

To illustrate the point, you only have to look back to the Carrington Event of September 1, 1859. On that day, the sun released a solar flare that was the equivalent of about 10 billion Hiroshima bombs exploding at the same time. If the Carrington event happened today, the effect would be devastating.

If you stopped people in the street and asked them what worries them, it's fairly certain they'd talk about terrorism, climate change, banking collapses and nuclear war. A solar storm wouldn't be up there, but  it should be. This is why we prep.

I'd say it's one of the top five threats that humanity faces at the moment. It's not as cataclysmic as nuclear fallout but it's not far off.

To take just one example, but an important one, the way we are supplied with electricity would be crippled. All the lines are linked by transformers, and if you lost say 20 per cent of them, it would have a huge effect. They are very expensive and take months to make and ship to wherever they are needed. The scary thing is that the power companies rarely hold back-ups of these things.

If you turned off the electricity tomorrow, you wouldn't be able to power your appliances, it's possible your vehicles will not operate because gas pumps wouldn't work – the entire power grid would be fried. It would set us back to the pre-industrial age and would take in the order of  years to recover.

A solar storm would also not be even-handed in how it hit the Earth. Because of reasons to do with the conductivity of the soil, geomagnetic latitude and the infrastructure of the power grid, North America and Europe would be worst hit, while most of India and China would escape, meaning a huge shift in the balance of world power.

But if all this seems a bit depressing, rest assured that the alarm bells are beginning to ring in Congress thanks to leaders like Congressmen Trent Franks and Roscoe Bartlett. You can go some way to preventing a major solar storm catastrophe. You could make the power infrastructure more robust, you could localize and isolate the damage. There are things we can do to better prepare ourselves, but forecasting will be a major step forward. If we knew a major solar flare was coming in a couple of days there are things we could do, such as shutting down certain parts of the electricity network. It would be inconvenient but a 24-hour power cut is better than a twelve-month power cut.

Having looked into the abyss, I wonder if it keeps any of you up at night?

When you think that we have roughly a 50/50 chance of experiencing such an event in our lifetime, it really does strike home for me. Agree?

Unlike man-made threats, we have no control of the mood of our nearest star.



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