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Space Science

Is a 'Katrina-Like' Space Storm Brewing? 356

pilsner.urquell writes "A newly released NASA report warns that the world has forgotten the power of the sun, creating a technological society susceptible like never before to large infrastructure damage from solar storms. According to the report, the world has grown so dependent on modern technologies without respect of what the sun can and has done, that it's risking major communications, finance, transportation, government and even emergency services disruptions."
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Is a 'Katrina-Like' Space Storm Brewing?

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  • Cold War & EMP (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gpronger ( 1142181 ) on Monday January 12, 2009 @11:29AM (#26417321) Journal
    At the height of the cold war, this was one of the concerns. As I recall the detonation of a nuclear device in space would cause a massive EMF pulse (Electro-Magnetic force Pulse) that could trash electronics. (Yes, one on the ground is obviously much worse, but this would allow a government to "blind" an enemy without collateral damage.)

    It seems that with the end of the cold war, and the fact that an EMP can occur naturally, has been forgotten.

    Greg P
  • by converter ( 1025085 ) on Monday January 12, 2009 @11:30AM (#26417335)
    It really, really bugs me. A lot. I know they are only using it to give the impression of a powerful and disastrous storm. It just seems that likening a coronal mass ejection to a "katrina-like" event is as realistic as likening a tornado to that little swirl in your bathtub drain.
  • Bread (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ender_Stonebender ( 60900 ) on Monday January 12, 2009 @11:30AM (#26417339) Homepage Journal

    Given that (a) the average journey for food items from production to plate is supposedly over 1000 miles in my country, (b) I live in area with few farms, and (c) Space Katrina is going to knock out transportation and probably the electical grid (I have an electric stove and oven), I have to wonder: Can the smoker I got for Christmas be used to bake bread? And what other essentials should I stock up on?

  • Re:finance (Score:4, Interesting)

    by oldspewey ( 1303305 ) on Monday January 12, 2009 @11:35AM (#26417411)
    I'm beginning to think that in general, modern society is a Perfect Storm factory.
  • Re:Rather dramatic (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bender0x7D1 ( 536254 ) on Monday January 12, 2009 @11:41AM (#26417509)

    Lessen? Yes. Could it still be catastrophic? Yes.

    First, every satellite would be "down". That means no GPS. No communication satellites. No weather satellites.

    Second, a violent storm can overload the power grid. Which means days without electricity - assuming important components aren't overloaded and destroyed.

    Third, cell phones, radios and other wireless devices could go down. Your home network will probably be fine. But forget using your 3G phone for anything. Your cordless phone will probably be OK to call emergency services but they won't be able to get them on the radio to tell them where to go.

    So, as long as you don't depend on modern technology, you should be fine.

  • Re:Rather dramatic (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dtolman ( 688781 ) <> on Monday January 12, 2009 @11:43AM (#26417547) Homepage

    Think the report is kidding around? Go lookup what happened in Quebec on March 13th, 1989. The whole power system was knocked out in seconds. Then go read about the kind of storm they're worried about - the solar storm of 1859.

    It actually caused telegraph wires to short out across Europe and the Americas - some even caught on fire. If that happened now, it would cause global power outages, fried computer equipment (including the ones that control your fancy electronic car), and everything except for milsats in orbit could be knocked out.

    So will people be directly killed? No. But when the fly-by-wire planes fall out of the sky, your new car won't work, your cell phones are dead, power is dead, the internet is down, and landlines fried - I bet it won't take long for a lot of people to die anyway.

  • by thebheffect ( 1409105 ) on Monday January 12, 2009 @11:47AM (#26417629)
    At least he didn't forget. One of the events he mentioned in his writings was the massive corruption of magnetically stored data. I believe it was his 2001 series (2001, 2010, etc...) where he mentioned a devastating solar storm that wiped out a vast majority of Earth's digital records.
  • My bogus hypothesis (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Thelasko ( 1196535 ) on Monday January 12, 2009 @11:51AM (#26417679) Journal
    The world has become so covered by interconnecting copper wire, it has become a massive Faraday cage [] and is impervious to such threat.
  • Re:Rather dramatic (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Timothy Brownawell ( 627747 ) <> on Monday January 12, 2009 @12:13PM (#26418039) Homepage Journal

    It actually caused telegraph wires to short out across Europe and the Americas - some even caught on fire. If that happened now, it would cause global power outages, fried computer equipment (including the ones that control your fancy electronic car), and everything except for milsats in orbit could be knocked out.

    Power outages, yes.

    Fried computers, only if they're plugged in. And even that's questionable, since I'm pretty sure there are surge protectors now that are good enough to protect things from lightning strikes on the power lines.

    Things in orbit, might actually include military stuff (unless they use vacuum tubes or something). The problem here isn't the magnetic fields, it's the charged particles. A transistor can only take so many hits from charged particles before it breaks (depends on how big it is),so the questions are "how old are their chips" and "how many particles/cm^2/s might there be".

  • by beckerist ( 985855 ) on Monday January 12, 2009 @12:31PM (#26418365) Homepage
    I have an honest question:
    How many people here truly think that if there were an anomaly that they would be able to survive without
    A) Electricity
    B) A grocery store
    C) Modern medicine -and most importantly-
    D) Fresh (clean) water

    I know for a fact that I'd safely have A, B and D. I live in the woods anyway, huge garden, plenty of animals to slaughter for tasty bbq and we have a very high water-table with multiple ponds around. Not the cleanest but I'd figure out a way to survive.
    I'm just wondering about statistics here.
  • by mulvane ( 692631 ) on Monday January 12, 2009 @12:42PM (#26418543)
    What do you do when people with guns realize this and force you off your land? I had the same thing at my last place, including 4K of windpower and 2K of solar backed by enough batteries to last me through 3 days. Everything that could be gas was gas. 800gal propane tank. What was I to do when that ran out? Someone would find out I was living comfy and then more people would decide they need what I had more than me.
  • Re:Bread (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lazlo ( 15906 ) on Monday January 12, 2009 @12:55PM (#26418785) Homepage

    Can the smoker I got for Christmas be used to bake bread?

    Well, yes it can. You can bake bread in just about anything that you can keep sufficiently hot for sufficiently long. But I'm curious why you believe flour would be more easily obtainable than other foodstuffs? I know that in my area, there are a few farms that I believe have wheat in their crop rotation. I have no idea where the closest mill is, but any non-electrical mills are likely to be historical sites that are probably non-functional.

    And then there's the big question: between you and all of your neighbors, what do you have that's so much more valuable to that farmer and miller that he will choose to trade the portion of his wheat in excess of his own needs to you for instead of them?

    Here's something to chew on: From a little bit of research, it appears that in the US, there are approximately 4 acres of farmland per capita. Given a long-term transportation failure, look around you (if you live anywhere near a city), and think about how many people would have to die (through starvation, violence, plague, whatever) before you could devote 16 acres to feeding a family of four. Granted, those 4 acres include farms for things like timber and cotton, which you might not need immediately, but it's also 4 acres of land being farmed by a professional farmer using modern farming techniques and machinery. If civilization does falter, an incomprehensibly huge number of people will die, and those that are left will learn a whole lot about how to make food.

    And what other essentials should I stock up on?

    I remember my old boss would, whenever a temporary disaster seemed likely (hurricanes or elections, mostly), stock up on three basics: ammunition, whiskey, and cigarettes. The ammo makes some sense, as it can be used both for defense and, at least in theory, hunting. Alcohol has at least some use recreationally, medically, and as a trade good. Given that he didn't smoke, the cigarettes were purely for trade. Not saying that's a good plan, but it is an interesting one.

  • by evanbd ( 210358 ) on Monday January 12, 2009 @12:55PM (#26418791)
    Oddly enough, that is precisely the problem. A Faraday cage works because the conductive shield allows eddy currents to flow, which create fields in opposition to the original event. This prevents things inside the cage from seeing what happened outside. Unfortunately, the cage in this case is our power grid -- and the eddy currents in it are precisely the things causing concern.
  • Re:Bread (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Synn ( 6288 ) on Monday January 12, 2009 @12:58PM (#26418841)

    I live in Florida. We've had several storms hit us that would knock out power for people for months at a time. I lived in Fort Lauderdale a couple years back and we had a category 3 take out all but 1 traffic light in the entire county.

    I'd say the state is probably one of the better prepared one for disasters. When the cat 3 took out Fort Lauderdale, the local Publix was open the next day selling groceries.

    For myself, I very much make sure to keep around enough food and water for myself for at least a week. You can buy freeze dried food in large cans that will last 30 years or more. I buy Mountain House food and it's useful for camping too:

    Buy a radio of some sort you can wind up. Having a reliable radio around in a disaster is 100% needed. It'll be your source of information and it'll keep you from getting bored. Some of these radios also have lights on them, which again is nice to have. A light that doesn't use batteries.

    When I think a storm is going to hit, I stock up on snacks. Candies and other goodies are a big comfort. Have around non electric means of staying entertained, like books, etc.

    I also have a water purifier, but I bought that mostly for camping/kayaking and not for survival since hurricanes aren't sudden and you can stock up on water before they hit.

    But basically, figure out your basics, and keep stocked up on those. Canned foods. Dry foods. Sterno or a camp stove to boil water. Stored water or a way to purify water.

    Then don't ignore the comforts. Just surviving is really boring. Snacks, books, a radio that isn't tied to batteries, etc etc are all really important.

    If you're thinking really long term survival... learn to hunt and fish. You can buy a 22 rifle and a milk jug full of ammo for dirt cheap. You won't be taking down any deer with it, but squirrels are everywhere and they taste just fine.

  • Re:Communication? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Monday January 12, 2009 @01:30PM (#26419365) Homepage

    > Most of the long distance shit uses fiberoptics...

    Aren't the repeaters powered by wire run in the cable? If so, and if the runs are long enough, the magnetic storms will zap them.

    > ...and a lot of the short distance stuff is underground...

    Makes no difference. The problem is currents induced in long cables when the Earth's magnetic field wiggles around as it interacts with solar storms.

  • by smeseema ( 791164 ) on Monday January 12, 2009 @04:07PM (#26422095)
    I can understand the complexity of shielding every electronics piece in the telecom / power industry, but is there a reason in this day and age that cars are not shielded? You're insulated from the ground by the tires, just strap on some chicken wire and you've got a rolling faraday cage.

Put no trust in cryptic comments.