Thursday, November 04, 2010

NASA has study warning of possibly apocalyptic solar storms (coronal mass ejections) in 2012; power grid wipeout?

Recently, I’ve come across some web speculation about a solar superstorm in 2012, a huge coronal mass ejection similar to that of around September 1, 1859, which caused electric shocks and damage even then, before society had come dependent on electricity.

I wrote a blog posting on my “disaster movies” blog (see Profile) yesterday, regarding some YouTube films, including one from Cosmic Journeys.

NASA wrote a post about the problem in 2003, here. It says that the October 2003 coronal mass ejection outburst was significant but not nearly as severe as the incident in 1859, when several solar storms occurred at the same time, producing a super CME.

In a worst case scenario, power grids could be out of commission for months.

Governments and the military can probably protect their infrastructure with Faraday cages, but can large companies, power stations, and large Internet ISP’s and server farms do the same? Can products be designed to protect home electronics? It sounds like we ought to get to work on this.

Lawrence E. Joseph has a couple of books warning about the 2012 solar storm, discussion on “over the limit” here.

Here’s an article (“2012: No Kiler Solar Flare”) from “Universe Today” questioning the doomsayers, link.

The Examiner has an August 2010 article by Brent McGardy here.  This article finally led to a reputable story from NASA itself, dated 2009, which also mentions a 1921 incident which was ten times larger that the 1989 incident that caused a one day power stop in Quebec. The important link is here.  (Yes, a really big solar flare could stop your toilet from flushing, and a lot more.) So, indeed, there seems to be something to this, although NASA, the National Academy of Sciences and NSF (in Arlington VA) seem now to be showing some public restraint on this issue. One reason for the concern is that the sunspot cycle reaches its 11 year max then; the 2003 storm was “out of cycle.”

Is this the case, "I read it on the Internet, so I believe it?"  Is this Chicken Little's "online reputation"?  It's not as bad as a brown dwarf approach, maybe. It seems like a curious thing to bring up two days after the midterm GOP rout, but it definitely transcends party lines. We ought to get to work on this, yes, really!

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