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Earth Barely Dodged Solar Blast In 2012 202

Rambo Tribble (1273454) writes "Coronal mass ejections, with severity comparable to the 1859 Carrington event, missed Earth by only 9 days in 2012, according to researchers. The Carrington event caused widespread damage to the telegraph system in the U.S., and a similar occurrence would be devastating to modern electronics, it is thought. From the Reuters article, 'Had it hit Earth, it probably would have been like the big one in 1859, but the effect today, with our modern technologies, would have been tremendous.' The potential global cost for such damage is pegged at $2.6 trillion."

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Earth Barely Dodged Solar Blast In 2012

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  • by Gothmolly ( 148874 ) on Thursday March 20, 2014 @01:18PM (#46535999)

    We had no control over this, and there's no means to mitigate it, and it didn't happen. So lets panic and blog and post video submissions to nerdy websites!

  • by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Thursday March 20, 2014 @01:38PM (#46536259)
    1. Knowing something is possible is better than not knowing
    2. We can't mitigate it? Turn in your nerd card right this instant
    3. Who is panicking?
    4. You'd rather this get submitted to some non-nerd website? I agree that seeing grandmothers starting to wear tinfoil hats to avoid solar flare problems might be really really funny, but this is exactly the type of submission for slashdot and vice versa.
    5. I find your sig ironic in this context.
  • by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Thursday March 20, 2014 @01:57PM (#46536441)

    Really good.

    And many supplies have MOVs and LC networks that would help mitigate the problem. In the old days, telegraph wires weren't earthed, and so became enormous antennas that could readily be charged by ionization.

    Satellites are less protected, and there, sensitive low-power (especially CMOS) products might easily fry. However, they're already shielded and exposed to the elements in a way unlike us on the ground.

    We're smart enough to tie most neutrals to earth in home wiring boxes. OTOH, the skin effect could fry stuff. Your car's ECM might be just fine because it's under a metal hood, albeit insulated from the earth by the tires. As such, it's not really a capacitor or joule/coulomb tank.

    Major electrical grid problems would ensue, but recovery might not be as tough as you think.

  • by Bengie ( 1121981 ) on Thursday March 20, 2014 @02:04PM (#46536507)
    My understanding, which could be wrong or incomplete, is that the ions would cause a tremendous surge of DC current to be conducted into our power-lines, causing transformers to be melted. This can simply be shunted, but we need to invest a few hundred mil to protect from a few tril of damage. No one wants to be the guy that spent more money, so no one invests into this simple and quite effective protection.
  • by cusco ( 717999 ) <> on Thursday March 20, 2014 @02:38PM (#46536873)

    The problem is not so much end-user equipment, although that alone would be pretty devastating to most people. The real problem is the destruction of the electrical grid that would result. Most of the large transformers and relays are custom-made one-off pieces, and backorder time for them under normal circumstances is 3 months to 2 years. There are no procedures available to collapse the grid in preparation to a CME to protect that equipment, it's really not doable at this point. Imagine most of North America without electricity for a series of months. Electricity is used to pump natural gas around the country, so most of that's unavailable. Electricity is used in gas pumps, so even if your car still works you have no fuel for it. Farmers have the fuel in their tanks, but after that their tractors are going to be parked for the duration. Many railroad switches can no longer be thrown by hand and schedules are all computerized, so big chunks of the rail network are going to be down. Most hospitals have 3 days of fuel for their generators, beyond that they're back to doing surgery by candlelight.

    The repercussions are enormous.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Thursday March 20, 2014 @03:50PM (#46537559) Journal
    Everyday I walk across a bridge built 120 years ago to carry horse and buggy traffic at 5 mph. Today it carries four lanes of traffic with city buses and 18 wheelers at some 40 mph. Would anyone even think of building something with this level of "over specification" or "over building"? Is it any wonder bridges hardly 40 years old designed to carry 18 wheelers at 65 mph are falling apart?

    Sometime back some small solar wind even knocked out a satellite. Normally it would not even be a blip in the radar. But that satellite was the link to credit card processing in the pay-at-the pump gas stations. Almost all these gas stations have cut down their employee down to one guy who sells chips and soda. Almost all the bays are self service. When the pay at the pump payment system got knocked out, people had to fill the car and walk in to pay that lone guy. Lines started forming, then the lines stretched, and reached the exit ramps of highways, and the highway started getting blocked. But at the end, after the mess cleared, still there is no incentive to create alternate routing or redundancy in the system.

    It costs money to make things secure. To make things robust. But if some company does it the right way and it competes with another company that does not, it is not going to be competitive. Yes, in the long run, catastrophe will strike and the chickens will come home to roost and the corner cutters would find themselves getting the short end of the stick. But, the non-corner-cutter could have been driven out of business before the catastrophe strikes.

    So it all depends on the frequency of the odd ball event. If the odd ball event is less frequent than once in a decade, there is no structural incentive for any manager to do the right thing. Most people change jobs once a decade and they will not be there to face the music. This is a systemic structural thing. The race to the bottom is the only race there is.

    It might not be a solar storm, or a terrestrial storm. It could be some fiber optic cable being accidentally severed. Or sabotaged. Or an oil spill blocks rail traffic somewhere. So don't think it is mere fear mongering or rationalize it saying solar storms are rare. Systematically our infrastructure has become very vulnerable without redundancy without factors of safety.

  • by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) on Thursday March 20, 2014 @06:01PM (#46538663) Homepage Journal

    Old and Modern cars will be unaffected by a CME.

    Shhh. You'll ruin the fun - it makes a great urban legend

    Think for a moment.

    If the power grid goes down across the country for months or years -- the most likely serious direct consequence -- for any reason -- even if *nothing* else is damaged by the CME (or other form of EMP-related problem), then the consequences of the following avalanching issues in the affected area must be considered:

    o No fuel pumped for transport; none delivered -- so no troops, no relief forces unless from the other side of the planet

    o No heating fuel, no cooling power -- people will die just from this; if winter, water systems can freeze, more consequences

    o No food production -- uh oh

    o No food transport -- guess it doesn't matter there won't be any produced -- starving, desperate people everywhere, then dead ones

    o No power in hospitals -- more dead people

    o Manufacturing stops -- Everything you consume regularly will run out very quickly. Meds. Food. Soap. Clothing.

    o Drugs run out -- more people die, others suffer

    o Sanitation loses power -- ok, now everyone begins to die -- sanitation failure in our society would be catastrophic

    ...which overal will result in mass...

    o Starvation

    o Disease

    o Violence

    o Desperation

    o Die-off

    All these things are inevitable, given just that one simple, scientifically 100% possible consequence. Amidst all that, you know what will work? Almost every weapon in civilian hands, at least until the bullets run out, which could take a while. Then there are knives, hammers, cobbled together spears and pikes, makeshift swords (and a few real ones), you know, the usual stuff of mayhem. Death. Likely the carnage would begin within 24 hours of the food running out, and I think it's pretty obvious what our society would look like a week later. And do you think for a *moment* that a nation-sized relief effort could be successfully mounted by an ally (or an enemy) soon enough and comprehensively enough to preclude that week of madness? If you do, you are far more of an optimist than I am.

    It won't mean a thing that you have a car that can run. You're almost certainly going to die. Probably the first time you drive it in front of people who don't have something and think you just might have some of it in your car. Like, you know, food.

"We don't care. We don't have to. We're the Phone Company."