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NASA Space

NASA Images Massive Solar Flare 42

An anonymous reader writes: NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, has sent back pictures of a massive, X-class solar flare. The X-class flares are the strongest, and this one received an X2.7 rating. It wasn't pointed at us, and there was no notable harm done, but there was a brief radio blackout (and a burst of static) over the Pacific Ocean and western North America.

This flare follows news of a presentation (PDF) from the Space Weather Workshop that there is evidence for a phenomenon known as a "superflare", which can be up to a thousand times stronger than the flares we routinely see. Such behavior is seen in other stars, and may be expected from the Sun once every 10,000 years, on average.
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NASA Images Massive Solar Flare

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
    That monthly changes in her circled orb,
    Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.

    • Surely we could find terrestrial evidence of such flares in the geological record, couldn't we?

      • by O('_')O_Bush ( 1162487 ) on Friday May 08, 2015 @12:35PM (#49647953)
        We have found countless fossils of dinosaurs with burnt out blutooth headsets and seen the patterns of chaos when said dinosaurs lost their nightly Fox news feed.

        I kid. Doing some very light reading, apparently no evidence has been found that the Sun is the kind of star to produce a super flare, and the presence of one would probably be quite devastating (1000x sun luminosity baking the earth for a few hours with no ozone layer to protect us). Definitely not something that happens in the solar system every 10k years.
        • Yes, this story seems to me to be an example of "climate reporting" by the media. It represents a view of astronomy that matches their understanding of climate science.

  • by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Friday May 08, 2015 @12:04PM (#49647709) Homepage Journal

    So every 10,000 years, a superflare destroys human civilization?

    • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Friday May 08, 2015 @12:10PM (#49647757)
      Probably not complete destruction, yet. We're only now at a point where we're so dependent on techology that would be affected by such a flare that it could be devastating, and even then, only if we're so completely unprepared as to have nothing shielded at all.

      Perhaps that's one of the few good things to come out of the Cold War, we were afraid enough of EMP from nuclear weapons that there's a lot of things that are hardened or semi-hardened that might survive a hit. Plus there's a decent chance that we wouldn't be directly struck anyway.
      • by nbauman ( 624611 )

        Good thing I saved my vacuum tubes.

        • by TWX ( 665546 )
          In all honesty, fully mechanical diesel trucks would be the thing. A diesel engine doesn't require any electricity to operate at all once it's started, and one could mount an air tank, air pump, and pneumatic starter to such a truck to be able to start it without even a battery. Granted, without a functioning alternator or generator the lights might not work, but for the short-term that wouldn't really be that big of a problem.

          I think the biggest danger would be a lack of water to urban areas, or a lac
          • Petrol engines worked for decades without any active electronics. My car (built in '57) has either zero or perhaps one semiconductor devices (quench diode in the fuel pump). It has plenty of electro-mechanical devices, but I doubt that these would be affected by a flare. It has a starter, but can be hand-cranked to start.
            • by TWX ( 665546 )
              True, but points distributors gave way to electronic distributors in the sixties and early seventies. Cummins fully mechanical diesel engines with mechanical injection pumps (ie, 6BT engines with twelve valves, versus the 24 valve versions that followed) were installed into Dodge trucks from 1989 to 1998. I wouldn't be surprised if other diesel manufacturers also continued to use fully mechanical setups until that era.

              I've got a couple of carbureted vehicles that could be relatively easily swapped from
              • Cummins fully mechanical diesel engines with mechanical injection pumps (ie, 6BT engines with twelve valves, versus the 24 valve versions that followed) were installed into Dodge trucks from 1989 to 1998.

                Ford used mechanical injection up until 1994. Chevy, not sure. Someplace around the same time. Unfortunately both used the same garbage Standyne DB-2 pump, it's nowhere near the same ballpark as the Bosch Jetronic used on the Dodges. And on those, only the relatively late-model trucks (1994-1998) in fact have an injection pump worth half a crap. Post-apocalypse, if you can't score a unimog, or a Jeep with an OM617 swap, you really want the Dodge.

      • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Friday May 08, 2015 @12:32PM (#49647913)

        The fear of the civilization ending EMP is greatly over exaggerated.
        Sure it could be a major problem. However it won't lead to the dystopian future.

        Because we humans seem to know how the technology we made works. So we can rebuild it. Also there will not 100% destruction. I have seen equiptment struck by lightning. And suffered only partial failures. (A network rack where the Upper ports may not work.).

        In short such an event would knock mankind back 2 months.

        • by TWX ( 665546 )
          Thing is, we don't know how bad the short-term would be, and how that would affect the long term. Look at areas that have suffered natural disasters like hurricanes, where the people suffered GREATLY because everything they were dependent on stopped working.

          If that happened on a continent-wide or global scale, I think we're screwed.
        • We may know how all of it works, but how long would it take us to rebuild the infrastructure used to build it? Good look building electronics from scratch with a hammer & wrench.

        • Yes and no. It takes roughly a year to build and ship the big transformers power plants use. These things aren't something you can just whip together. If your entire grid shits the bed and gets fried, that's only a handful of power stations for the entire nation, and that's not taking into account transportation problems getting them out to the plants that need them. Should the grid ever get fried by something like this super flare, you're looking at at least 1 year of no power for the entire hemisphere asi

        • by delt0r ( 999393 )
          Flares don't cause EMP. They cause quite slowly moving magnetic fields on the scale of continents. So right now about the *only* it would affect is the power grid. And then only grids that haven't bothered to check their breakers.
      • Case in point, had the flare/CME that hit Earth in the 1800s hit today, it would have likely wiped out half the world's electrical grid one moment. It would likely take several years at a minimum to restore power to the continental US, let alone the rest of the hemisphere, and millions would die due to lack of food, clean water, healthcare, and heating or cooling (depending on which season it were to occur).

        People today are highly susceptible to a mass dying event due to just-in-time delivery of foodstuffs,

      • by Cyberax ( 705495 )
        Nuclear weapon EMP is greatly exaggerated.

        A rule of thumb is, if your devices are affected by an EMP of a nuclear explosion and you're not inside a bunker/tank/whatever then you shouldn't worry about it. Because you're dead.

        Besides, even the largest solar flares won't produce much magnetic flux to affect anything less than grid-size. Remember, flares themselves do not produce magnetic field themselves, they affect the Earth's geomagnetic field instead.
    • by danlip ( 737336 ) on Friday May 08, 2015 @12:19PM (#49647815)

      I don't think a super-flare would have much effect on a pre-electronic civilization. It might start a new religion because of super-intense auroras.

Thufir's a Harkonnen now.