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Space Earth

How a Solar Storm Two Years Ago Nearly Caused a Catastrophe On Earth 212

Posted by Soulskill
from the call-ahead-before-dropping-by dept.
schwit1 writes: On July 23, 2012, the sun unleashed two massive clouds of plasma that barely missed a catastrophic encounter with the Earth's atmosphere. These plasma clouds, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), comprised a solar storm thought to be the most powerful in at least 150 years. "If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces," physicist Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado tells NASA. Fortunately, the blast site of the CMEs was not directed at Earth. Had this event occurred a week earlier when the point of eruption was Earth-facing, a potentially disastrous outcome would have unfolded.

"Analysts believe that a direct hit could cause widespread power blackouts, disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket. Most people wouldn't even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps. ... According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion, or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina. Multi-ton transformers damaged by such a storm might take years to repair." Steve Tracton put it this way in his frightening overview of the risks of a severe solar storm: "The consequences could be devastating for commerce, transportation, agriculture and food stocks, fuel and water supplies, human health and medical facilities, national security, and daily life in general."
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How a Solar Storm Two Years Ago Nearly Caused a Catastrophe On Earth

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  • FUD filled.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Friday July 25, 2014 @07:52AM (#47530197) Homepage

    " disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket. Most people wouldn't even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps"

    Every single water filtration plant has very large diesel generators that can run the place for months without electrical power. And no, a solar flare can not burn out giant motors and generators, all that can be ran easily without the SCADA system. In fact we used to run drills operating the place by hand, as most of the guys that did it from 1940 until 1990 did it mostly by hand.

  • Known this forever (Score:3, Insightful)

    by koan (80826) on Friday July 25, 2014 @08:07AM (#47530305)

    And yet nothing changes, there is no hardening of infrastructure, no preparation or planning.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday July 25, 2014 @08:34AM (#47530545) Journal

    Really? This would be devastating? We can't live without electricity, electronics, water pumps? It's amazing we're here today!

    Yes, it very likely would. All those urban areas that grew as big and relatively healthy as they did, thanks to clean water and efficient sewage systems? If that wasn't brought back online, fast, they'd start moving toward their pre-sanitation population levels. The hard way.

    Same would apply for agricultural areas and yields that depend on powered irrigation. Unless that was brought back online, and quickly enough to avoid damage to the crop, you'd see yields plummet toward historical levels, with population following suit shortly thereafter. Very unpleasant.

    Hopefully there would be enough enough backup systems to restore function relatively quickly; but if not things would be unlikely to go well.

  • by sjames (1099) on Friday July 25, 2014 @08:50AM (#47530717) Homepage

    The problem is, we as a civilization are no longer set up to live without those things. Before air conditioning, windows in office buildings could be opened and there were fans everywhere. The fans are gone and the windows don't open now. People live in apartments way too far up to be practical if you have to take the stairs. Nearly nobody has a well and bucket anymore, so yes, we depend on water pumps. In theory, we could, given time, adapt to do without (+/- having centers of population too dense for that) but 24 hours really isn't enough notice.

  • Re:FUD filled.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Friday July 25, 2014 @08:57AM (#47530785) Homepage

    Not hard at all. EMP does not blow up starter motors and does not blow up lead acid batteries. Hell all I have to do is connect jumper cables from the battery to the starter lugs to start the generator.

    Granted that's far more difficult for the typical person that cant get past the "I pushed the button, it most be broke" thought process, but that is why most places actually hire competent employees to manage that stuff.

  • by tekrat (242117) on Friday July 25, 2014 @09:03AM (#47530853) Homepage Journal

    Yes, for 6 months the world would have been thrown into chaos. Millions might have even died. But we would have emerged from it stronger and more united as a planet. Imagine just in the USA.

    Would Ted Cruz have shut down the government to protest Obamacare after having lived through an event like that? Do you think the Republicans would be global warming deniers if they had gone through an event where the sun struck back at earth and nearly destroyed us?

    Suddenly american politics wouldn't be about immigration and shouts of "benghazi" it would be about trying to put the pieces back together and rebuilding our infrastructure rather than spending trillions on a fighter plane that can't fly.

    I wish the disaster had happened, because it would focus us on the things that are important, rather than stupid wedge issues meant to keep the serfs arguing with each other rather than realizing their masters are incompetent.

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