August 27, 2010
Do we really need to worry about a huge solar storm burning out the
electrical systems of half the world by 2013?
According to NASA, no official date can
be set, however some reports suggest a solar storm could erupt
sometime between 2012-2013 bringing devastation to the earth's
electrical and communication grid.
NASA says that other
geomagnetic storms occurred back in 1859 and
1921, wiping out telegraph wires completely.
A solar storm of
greater magnitude could be even more severe today, possibly leaving
humans without transportation, communication, or power. This could
have a profound effect on the world economy and hold us hostage in a
power-less electrical gridlock.
2012 storm has the potential to
be even more disruptive.
The National Academy of Sciences warned two years ago that power
grids and emergency radio communications could,
“all be knocked out by intense solar
"The general consensus among general
astronomers (and certainly solar astronomers) is that this
coming Solar maximum (2012 but possibly later into 2013) will be
the most violent in 100 years," astronomy lecturer and columnist
Dave Reneke said.
"A bold statement and one taken seriously by those it will
affect most, namely airline companies, communications companies
and anyone working with modern GPS systems.
"They can even trip circuit breakers and knock out orbiting
satellites, as has already been done this year."
Regardless, the point astronomers are
making is it doesn't matter if the next Solar Max isn't the worst in
history, or even as bad as the 1859 storms.
It's the fact that there hasn't been one since the mid-80s.
Commodore had just launched the Amiga and the only digital storm
making the news was Tetris. No one really knows what effect the
2012-2013 Solar Max will have on today's digital-reliant
Dr Richard Fisher, director of NASA’s Heliophysics division,
told Mr Reneke the super storm would hit like "a bolt of
lightning”, causing catastrophic consequences for the world’s
health, emergency services and national security unless precautions
US government officials earlier this year took part in a "tabletop
exercise" in Boulder, Colorado, to map out what might happen if the
Earth was hit with a storm as intense as the 1859 and 1921 storms.
The 1859 storm was of a similar size to that predicted by NASA to
hit within the next three years - one of decreased activity, but
more powerful eruptions.
NASA said that
a recent report by the National Academy of
Sciences found that if a similar storm occurred today, it could
“$1 to 2 trillion in damages to
society's high-tech infrastructure and require four to 10 years
for complete recovery”.
Staff at the Space Weather Prediction
Center in Colorado, which hosted the exercise, said with our
reliance on satellite technology, such an event could hit the Earth
magnitude of a global hurricane or earthquake.
The reason for the concern comes as the sun enters a phase known as
Solar Cycle 24.
All the alarming news building around the event is being fuelled by
The first is a book by disaster
expert Lawrence E. Joseph,
Apocalypse 2012: An Investigation into
Civilization's End, in which he claims the
"Hurricane Katrina for the Earth" may cause unprecedented planetwide upheaval.
The second is a theory that
claims sunspots travel through the sun on a "conveyor belt"
similar to the Great Ocean Conveyor Belt which
controls weather on Earth. The belt carries magnetic fields
through the sun. When they hit the surface, they explode as
sunspots. Weakened, they then travel back through the sun's
core to recharge.
It all happens on a rough 40-50-year
cycle, according to solar physicist David Hathaway of the
National Space Science and Technology Center
in the US.
He says when the belt speeds up, lots of magnetic fields are
collected, which points to more intense future activity.
"The belt was turning fast in
1986-1996," Prof Hathaway said. "Old magnetic fields swept up
then should reappear as big sunspots in 2010-2011."
Most experts agree, although those who
put the date of Solar Max in 2012 are getting the most press.
They claim satellites will be aged by 50 years, rendering GPS even
more useless than ever, and the blast will have the equivalent
energy of 100 million hydrogen bombs.
“We know it is coming but we don’t
know how bad it is going to be,” Dr Fisher told Mr Reneke
most recent issue of Australasian Science. “Systems will just
not work. The flares change the magnetic field on the Earth and
it’s rapid, just like a lightning bolt."
"That’s the solar effect.”