Monday, January 23, 2012

Solar surf's up


Big storm coming in.  Largest of its kind in almost ten years. 

A massive solar flare occurred yesterday at 11pm EST.  The Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) has flung a torrent of electromagnetic radiation and protons towards Earth, threatening to cause problems with GPS satellites and air travel over the polar region, namely flights between the U.S. and Europe.  This is likely to keep going on until tomorrow morning.  Big as this is, NASA maintains that the CME was merely moderate in size, unlike the 1989 solar flare that cause power grids across Quebec to go down.  Yet NASA reports that the plasma cloud is among the fastest moving ever recorded.

That said, there is still the chance that electrical grids in isolated pockets could see sporadic outages and complications.  Not a guarantee but not unheard of either.  It does give me pause to think in regard to what would happen to our society if...nay, when...our Sun decides to fling a truly massive CME our way with enough electromagnetic punch to bring down power grids on a wide-reaching scale.  We'd find ourselves back in the Stone Age rather quickly.  Our lives are held together by slimsy strands of copper wire and fiber optics.  I fully admit being in that digital-dependent state.  So after the massive EM pulse, that's probably when all those people I razzed about camping in Civil War re-enactments will take over.  Oh yes, there is karma.  Sigh.

So exactly what will this current solar storm do to us?  Well, Gizmodo says:
"In the best case scenario, only power lines will be affected. You will not notice it because any power fluctuations will be handled by companies at the grid level. If the storm is long enough, however, it may damage power grid transformers."

No word yet as to who is more vulnerable, Autobots or Decepticons.

Sorry.  Couldn't help it.
All in all, this makes for an interesting bit of academic research, the opportunity to study a solar storm of this magnitude and learn how we can prepare ourselves for future bursts.  Yet in the end, it's much ado about nothing.

For now.


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