The Solar Storm (of 1859) – Part 1

Posted: November 22, 2011 in Current Events, Personal Whining

In September 1859 several astronomical phenomena came together to produce the most intense solar storm of which we have any real record.  What’s called by NASA as “the perfect storm”, was the result of large sunspots producing a massive solar flare containing intense magnetic fields.  This produced a Northern Lights display as far south as Cuba and Rome that was so bright that reports say you could read a book by the light.  The only real electrical infra structure present was telegraph wires, which were said to spark and short off, producing frequent fires.

So what would happen if a similar storm were to happen in modern times.  After looking at Internet information and talking to several astrophysicists at the SciFi Convention, several things were clear and other things not so clear.  First thing that most agree on is that is a similar thing were to happen today and we have not made any preparations (-and like the asteroid risk, I assure you we have not-) then our current electronic infrastructure would be be seriously impacted.  One scientist just looked at me and said, “We would be toast,”  which is a fairly literal metaphor.  The electrical grid would be seriously compromised, satellites would be knocked out (-this already having happened to two satellites during a 2001 solar storm) and most of our electronic network would be disrupted, including both cell phones and land lines.

One scientist I spoke to stated that it was prudent to look at the recent nuclear crisis in Japan, because if the power grid were knocked out, we would be unprepared to continue cooling radioactive waste stockpiles at Ontario reactors for more than a few days and there would be a potential for the same type of radioactive escape as there was in Japan.  Now, this is unconfirmed, and I have trouble believing that the nuclear plants don’t have a contingency plan for power being knocked out for more than a few days, but having done a lot of past research in the nuclear industry, it wouldn’t surprise me at all.  At any rate it points to one of the many issues that we just take for granted when thinking about our modern electronic network.  Air travel would probably grind to a halt. There would be disruptions in everything from food and water supplies to medical resources.  National Geographic has an excellent on line article examining possible effects.

Another thing that is very clear is that there is no reason that the events of 1859 will not reoccur, potentially with even greater intensity.  In fact, solar storms happen to be cyclic and the probability of such a recurrence is high.  Furthermore, 2012 or early 2013 is supposed to be a high point in the cycle of sun spot activity.  Scientists don’t agree on whether this will be an example of an active or a moderate level of activity.  These things are hard to predict.  Just think about how good meteorologists are at predicting local weather, never mind interplanetary weather.  NASA, however, has released one news bulletin predicting an intense storm some time between 2011 and 2013.

This is the factual information I have been able to gather.  The topic came up because one of my teachers, Tom Brown Jr., issued a warning to his students that this is a real threat.  Brown is a survival instructor, -the one featured in the movie “The Hunted” (although that’s not a really authentic representation of him).  The next post will not be based on facts, but on Tom’s communication.

I need to do some more thinking about this, so I will post part two either later today or tomorrow.  I’m actually in the middle of a chapter to the “Autobiography” called Trans-Rationalism Applied to the Tracker Philosophy, but it won’t be ready for a while, -especially now that there is more to chew on. 


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