I overheard a one-sided conversation at work this morning that went like this:
“Remember how slow our computers were last Friday? Well, I found out what it was. It was the solar flares. One of them was the biggest in history. It disrupted our servers. So that’s why everything was slow.”
That was pretty much verbatim what the person said. So I’m thinking, “That sounds a little hokey to me.” Especially given the person who was giving the information, so I looked into it.
A pretty spectacular solar flare did take place on June 7th. NASA rated the flare an M-2, a medium-sized flare, which is one step below the most disruptive flare, an X. The flare was pointed away from the earth so it is expected to only have a minor effect on communications or power grids. It was rated an S-1 (minor) radiation storm, and was a spectacular coronal mass ejection (CME) that appeared to be half the surface of the sun. It was clearly not the “biggest in history” which happened in 1859.
The biggest flare on record created a solar storm with auroras worldwide and interrupted telegraph service for weeks. It caused the telegraph lines to short out in the United States and Europe causing widespread fires. Now, with our reliance on satellites, a major solar storm could be disastrous.
And the scientists are telling us the same thing they tell Californian’s about the big earthquake, its not if, its when. NASA says the sun is entering a very active time. Flares like the one on Thursday will be common, and should peak in 2013. The sun is moving into the active phase of it’s 11 year cycle. ” So what,” you say? Well here’s some of the fallout from a major solar storm:
You won’t be able to get your money out of the bank. Not a big deal for me, because I don’t have any, but it might be for you or your bank. You won’t be able to access the internet at all. Your car probably won’t work, it has onboard computer systems. If it’s electric, even worse. Forget GPS, you better know where you’re going or have a map, but you won’t be able to buy gas. Computerized pumps. Your cell phone certainly won’t work, and your 3G/4G network won’t either. (This could be a good thing. You might be able to talk to your children.) Satellites will be taken out, literally, by radiation. They are only designed to absorb so much radiation in their lifetime, so no TV. But that won’t matter because the power to your home will have likely gone out. These outages will be on the colossal scale too. Explosions and fires of the stuff for summer blockbuster movies. But for now, it’s just been the occasional disruption on my DirecTV HD transmission, and it could have been the slowdown in our network services and outages we experienced on Friday.
If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like the hype called Y2K, you’re wrong. These 11-year cycles of the sun are predictable and the severity is only determined by the direction and size of the flare. This one on Thursday could have been serious, had it been in direct sight of the earth.
Here’s my problem: It doesn’t seem like there is anything we can do about it and I don’t like that. We could build maybe huge solar shields to bounce the radiation cloud back into space, but I think we’d be better off with Superman. WTF.
So, just like the massive asteroid that’s going to impact us some day, and the problems with global warming, and now the solar storms, we’re doomed.