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Space Science Technology

One In Eight Chance of a Financially Catastrophic Solar Storm By 2020 337

Posted by Soulskill
from the movie-rights-already-sold-to-syfy dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A privately employed solar scientist named Pete Riley estimates there's a 12 percent chance of a massive solar storm comparable to the Carrington Event in 1859 which resulted in breathtaking aurorae across the United States and other temperate regions of the globe. The electromagnetic surge from the 1859 event caused failures of telegraph systems across Europe and North America. A similar storm today could knock out power grids, GPS and communication satellites, data centers, transportation systems, and building and plumbing infrastructures and wreak $1 trillion or more of economic damage in the first year alone, according to a 2008 report from the National Academy of Sciences."
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One In Eight Chance of a Financially Catastrophic Solar Storm By 2020

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  • What are the chances (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eternaldoctorwho (2563923) on Friday March 02, 2012 @10:56AM (#39220649)
    that it will happen in 2012?
    • by Krneki (1192201) on Friday March 02, 2012 @10:57AM (#39220669)

      that it will happen in 2012?

      12,5%

    • by DamageLabs (980310) on Friday March 02, 2012 @10:59AM (#39220689) Homepage

      Let me just check my Mayan calendar...

      Oh yes, there it is.

    • ((12 - 2)/12) / (2020 - 2012) * 12 % ?
    • by Hentes (2461350)

      7/8, of course.

    • by na1led (1030470)
      It will happen on 12/12/12
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 02, 2012 @10:56AM (#39220655)

    ... Can it knock out out my PC and if so how can I protect it?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 02, 2012 @10:59AM (#39220693)

      you must build... an ark, with two of every device

    • by philip.paradis (2580427) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:01AM (#39220713)

      Make multiple backups of everything you care about, using a mix of different media types. Store your backups in geographically diverse locations, in hardened containers, preferably some of them subterranean. Of course, you're already doing that anyhow, right? Past that, your PC becomes significantly less useful if major communication grids are down/damaged, at least if you like the Internet.

      • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Friday March 02, 2012 @12:04PM (#39221517)

        Store your backups in geographically diverse locations, in hardened containers, preferably some of them subterranean. Of course, you're already doing that anyhow, right?

        Storing back-ups in hardened containers in subterranean bunkers? No, I'm not, and somehow I doubt most other people here are either.

        Backing things up safely, securely and frequently is surprisingly hard for individuals to do given all the technical wonders we have in the world today.

        (In case anyone's knee is jerking, please read the actual terms and check the actual reliability stats of any Internet-based back-up service you're about to recommend before you post it. Chances are, you'll never make the post.)

    • ... Can it knock out out my PC and if so how can I protect it?

      It's sort of a slippery slope toward insanity [youtube.com] ...

    • by X0563511 (793323) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:34AM (#39221137) Homepage Journal

      Yes.

      Turn it off when you're not using it and disconnect it from power and communications (eg disconnect the power cord and network cable). Since if something Bad Happened, it's likely going to come in through the AC or in through the DSL/Cable/Sat modem - same as any other power surge.

      In these storms, what happens is that long lines (data and power transmission) resonate more or less with the "fun" and so you get powerful AC currents induced into them. The smaller wires in your peripherals and inside the computer are too small (so they resonate too high frequency) and so shouldn't be directly vulnerable. It's those large AC voltages coming in from those long lines that release the magic smoke.

    • by robthebloke (1308483) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:57AM (#39221431)
      Yes. I saw a documentary on the history channel about this. According to the program, the best protection is to get two sticks of Hazel, and use them to douse for ley lines near your house. Any device within 50 meters of a ley line should be protected using a conical cosmic ray deflector, which should be gently placed on top of the gadget, with the tip pointing skyward (don't point it at the ground, you'll just wake up the sleeping aliens!). Be warned that this won't fully protect your touchscreen devices though. There's something odd about capacitive devices, which will require your pet cat to be earthed at all times before they are fully protected. Those cuddly critters are serious conductors of cosmic rays. I've also gone to the extent of hanging some garlic on my front door too. Not sure what that does, but I figured it couldn't hurt....
      • by tnk1 (899206) on Friday March 02, 2012 @12:36PM (#39221839)

        Screw that, don't buy into this so-called 'conical cosmic ray deflector', which is probably some sort of fraudulent device.

        Everyone knows that only Real Brazilian Power Crystals(tm) can actually help with this. Even the FDA would not deny that it is possible in English to have said that these crystals were very efficacious for dealing with solar storms and rheumatism.

  • by RapidEye (322253) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:03AM (#39220747) Homepage

    So, is "privately employed solar scientist" a euphemism for "crackpot scientist"?

    • by Coisiche (2000870)

      Well,

      "privately employed"

      suggests that he is in the employ of some entity which derives income from some source.

      I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest it is from something that you would want to alleviate your share of the potential trillion dollar damage bill.

  • If only :) (Score:2, Insightful)

    by giampy (592646)

    Actually a 1T$ investment to rebuild all the electrical infrastructure would be just great both for the infrastructure AND for the economy.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      if you believe the broken window fallacy.

      I somehow can't believe that destroying trillions of dollars worth of real goods/ wealth is going to make us better off. but hey keep listening to the Keynesians. they predicted the crash.... oh wait, they didn't. they explained the crash... Oh wait, they didn't do that either. they have since fixed the crash with the50k plus per American that they prescribed.... oh wait, that didn't work either.

    • Re:If only :) (Score:5, Informative)

      by phantomfive (622387) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:29AM (#39221075) Journal
      That's the broken window fallacy [wikipedia.org]. It would immediately suck $1Trillion out of the economy that would have been spent other ways, it would prevent a lot of useful work from being done while the infrastructure was down, and it would most likely be rebuilt in a crappy, haphazard way, not in some nice, well-designed way that would make everything better.
      • by danlip (737336)

        Not to mention how much it would suck for the rest of the economy to not have electricity for a few years; and not to mention how hard it is to rebuild all that stuff when you don't have electricity.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Broken window fallacy.
  • by tverbeek (457094) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:05AM (#39220773) Homepage

    Has plumbing really become dependent on electronic control systems? Or does this phenomenon somehow affect gravity too?

    • Re:Plumbing? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:12AM (#39220863)

      Has plumbing really become dependent on electronic control systems? Or does this phenomenon somehow affect gravity too?

      Plumbing consists of pipes running for long distances in straight lines (i.e. antennas). Magnetic storms can cause currents to run through these pipes resulting in electrical damage. In addition, for buried pipes, the magnetic storm can cause their relative voltage to shift, resulting in massive corrosion. This is of particular concern with respect to oil and gas pipelines.

    • by necro81 (917438)

      Has plumbing really become dependent on electronic control systems? Or does this phenomenon somehow affect gravity too?

      Rivers will still flow, if that's what you are talking about. And if you have an elevated storage tank or around your house, you'll be alright for a while. But municipal water systems require electrical power to clean water, pressurize the pipe network, operate distribution valves, and treat sewage. Out in the boonies most folks have a well, which generally requires electricity, too.

  • by hcs_$reboot (1536101) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:05AM (#39220781)
    ...a Solar eclipse will happen at this very time.
  • by GmExtremacy (2579091) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:06AM (#39220787)

    Using Gamemaker, they can put off the problem with its extreme slowness.

  • by dmomo (256005) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:06AM (#39220793) Homepage

    I would retitle this submission "One in twenty chance of naturally-caused
      economic stimulus by 2020".

    • by FooAtWFU (699187)

      You should ask Japan how effective the "economic stimulus" from their earthquake/tsunami has been working out for them. Or ask Thailand about their floods. Or ask Florida about how much good old Hurricane Andrew pumped up their economy.

      I mean, if your post were modded Funny instead of Insightful that would be one thing...

  • by jolyonr (560227) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:07AM (#39220807) Homepage

    Print out your porn.

    • Do you know how much space a single hour of hires porn takes when converted into a flip-book? And how am I supposed to flip said book while perusing it in the intended manner? True preppers stash at least one concubine together with the dried food and the ammo.
      • by X0563511 (793323)

        Bonus points: if the shit really hits the fan, the concubine could serve as an emergency food source.

        As bait. Really. Not what you're thinking, you sick freak! :P

  • A lot of confusion. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:07AM (#39220811)

    I think a lot of people are very confused.

    This won't directly break your car or your computer. It affects long runs of conductive cable.

    It will break power distribution and telecom. It might break your computer if it's plugged in, but absolutely will not break your computer if it is not plugged in. Likewise with cars. If you own an electric car, just hope that it's unplugged when this happens.

    • by hcs_$reboot (1536101) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:12AM (#39220851)
      Likewise, it will not break satellites if they're unplugged?
      • If you live in the UK, South Africa or Australia, then just turn the wall switch of your satellite off, but if you live in the USA or Europe, then please unplug the lead from the wall and don't forget to roll up the 30,000km power cord...
      • by X0563511 (793323) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:47AM (#39221299) Homepage Journal

        Nope - because satellites don't get all the protections of being in the atmosphere. They get raw solar radiation.

        Down here in the dirt, it's only the (relatively) low frequency stuff that makes it through - and that's the stuff that long runs of wire pick up (or any long conductor - metallic piping could potentially pick it up too)

        If they are lower in orbit, they are still at risk - since the EM of the Earth actually focuses the incoming radiation into bands/layers that the satellite might pass through. Think "ant under a magnifying glass".

    • by na1led (1030470)
      Actually, any electronic device can blow without it being plugged into an outlet. Electronics can receive high voltage from electro magnetic waves in the air, which can overload capacitors. There are already devices on the market that use similar technology to charge electronics without wires. Not to mention the effects an EMP would have on magnetic media, such as Hard Drives, Tapes, SSD/Flash memory. I'm sure if the earth was exposed to a strong enough EMP, it would take out 90% of electronics.
      • by EllisDees (268037)

        A solar flare is not an EMP. It would only take out things that have long stretches of conductive material, like the power lines.

    • by necro81 (917438)

      This won't directly break your car or your computer. It affects long runs of conductive cable.

      It will break power distribution and telecom.

      Well, gosh, I guess that's alright then. I mean, who in this day and age needs the power distribution and telecom networks.

  • I've heard every other year that there's going to be a devastating solar storm that will change electronics forever, or whatnot.
    I'm almost as tired of hearing this as I am of hearing the constant "We solved the energy crisis!" stories.
    • just like all the other doomsayers, one time they might actually get it right by pure chance and then everyone will have forgotten about all the other times they were wrong.

    • by EllisDees (268037) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:47AM (#39221295)

      The difference is that this sort of thing has happened before [wikipedia.org], and not that long ago (1859).

      "Telegraph systems all over Europe and North America failed, in some cases even shocking telegraph operators. Telegraph pylons threw sparks and telegraph paper spontaneously caught fire."

      The world was much less wired in 1859 than it is today. At a minimum, the power grid would be fried for months. I certainly wouldn't want to live somewhere like the Southwest part of the US, where if the power is gone you can't get water and the gas pumps stop working, so you can't go somewhere else.

      • Note that the wires in 1859 weren't very well protected against such things. Our current power/telephony system would have survived the 1859 event much better than it did in 1859. There were still coming to terms with the idea of AC current in 1859. We've learned a lot since then.
  • BS Flag (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jasnw (1913892) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:10AM (#39220839)
    OK, I throw the BS flag all over this one. I've been in this business (space weather) for over 40 years, and one of the biggest problems in the whole field are these "OMG the F-ing SKY is FALLING" pronouncements from self-proclaimed space weather experts (or NASA scientists, which is just sad). What this guy has done is a typical "lies, damn lies, and statistics" analysis of the worst sort, and he even kinda admits this with the caveat at the end of TFA's abstract in Space Weather. This is not to say that a big Carrington-magnitude storm came along it wouldn't cause havoc, it most certainly will, but there's only been one of these in our recorded history. That seems to fall well outside the realm of useable predictability. It's in a class of problems the weather service folks who try to predict 100-year floods know all too well. If you only see one instance of something in your record, at best you can say that you get one of those beasts every record-length/2 years (if that). This guy is just blowing smoke to advertise his business.
    • Re:BS Flag (Score:4, Informative)

      by rndmtim (664101) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:20AM (#39220967) Homepage

      There was an event in the 1920's (less than the 1859 event) and another in the 1990's (less than the 1920's event but it took down pieces of the Quebec grid). Doesn't do anything to help measure the frequency of the 1859 level events. Also, it kind of doesn't matter, since power facilities like the one I work at are required to prepare for things like the "maximum possible flood" not a "500 year flood". If your sample set has at least one of these, and we can't quantify it to be say less than a 1 in 10000 - and we certainly can't - then we should be working on this problem. Not as if the sky is falling, but we've been working on changing out some stuff in my plant for a decade, so we definitely should get on it, since remediation is going to take a long time, and the consequences would be very bad.

      • Also, it kind of doesn't matter, since power facilities like the one I work at are required to prepare for things like the "maximum possible flood" not a "500 year flood".

        Noah could have saved himself a lot of trouble by just crashing at your facility instead of building an ark.

    • by u38cg (607297)
      Is there good data for storm frequency segmented by size? If there is, it would seem fairly straightforward to estimate the probability of outsize events.
    • Well, it is dubious at best to put a number on it like the guy did, but we know for certain that a) Carrington events happen and b) our infrastructure is not set up to handle it. Given the possible catastrophic consequences, it is at least prudent to consider how to handle such an event.
    • by na1led (1030470)
      Your analogy is like many businesses who fail to backup their data because they think a disaster isn't going to happen to them. We've only been using computers for the past 50 years, and computers today are far more susceptible to damage than ever before. Everyone ignores the danger until it hits them, happens all the time.
  • The world is going to end tomorrow! Repent, repent...
  • So do our financial institutions take measures to keep our finance data safe?
    Because if we are really talking about every single HDD on earth being destroyed normal data protection techniques are not going to work.
    And if that actually happened I don't think civilization would survive.

  • which resulted in breathtaking aurorae across the United States and other temperate regions of the globe.

    because the aliens always attack new york first!

  • There's an almost 90% chance that it won't.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Friday March 02, 2012 @12:39PM (#39221885)
    I watched an interesting PBS special on the Amish a couple nights ago. It gave me good insight into their lifestyle choices.
    During this show I thought about the "2012 problem". If any one would survive a shutdowns of electricity and electronics, these people will However, these people are pacifists an might not do well with armed bands that would arise in the apocalypse.

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