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The world becomes more wrapped up in technology every day. While that’s good for many, it’s also bad, as it makes the world more vulnerable to what scientists says is overdue: a massive solar flare or set of solar flares, a solar storm that could result in what scientists liken to a “global Katrina.”
A warning from scientists came on Monday, Feb. 21, a week after the Sun cut loose with its most massive solar flare in more than four years. That flare disrupted radio communications in China and generated concern around the world. NASA made a calming statement later in the week, saying
“The particle cloud produced by the Valentine’s Day event appears to be rather weak and is not expected to produce any strong effects at Earth other than perhaps some beautiful aurora in the high northern and southern latitudes on Feb. 17.”
They were correct, in terms of that particular solar flare. But on Monday, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington. others emphasized we may have just dodged a bullet. Much as with the case for more watchfulness for possible asteroid and comet strikes, so does the world need to increase its preparedness with respect to solar storms.
The Valentine’s Day solar flare was the biggest since 2007. It was a baby compared to some historical storms. With our global reliance on technology, including cell phones, broadband, and GPS, a really big solar storm could have the “global Katrina” effect mentioned above. It could be a “perfect storm” of such proportion that communications and power grids could be affected, and some of the satellites orbiting Earth could even be permanently damaged.
In 1989, a solar flare created geomagnetic storms on Earth that disrupted electric power transmission. These caused blackouts across the Canadian province of Quebec.
Solar storms run on a cycle which is about 11 years in length. The last maximal period was in 2001 and the next maximal period is actually “late,” and is expected to hit in 2013. The last minimal period was particularly weak.
Professor Sir John Beddington, the U.K. government’s chief scientific adviser, said:
“The issue of space weather has got to be taken seriously. We’ve had a relatively quiet period of space weather, but we can’t expect that quiet period to continue.
“At the same time over that period the potential vulnerability of our systems has increased dramatically, whether it is the smart grid in our electricity systems or the ubiquitous use of GPS in just about everything we use these days.
“The situation has changed. We need to be thinking about the ability both to categorise and explain and give early warning when particular types of space weather are likely to occur.”
Jane Lubchenco, head of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, added:
“This is not a matter of if, it is simply a matter of when and how big.
“The last time we had a maximum in the solar cycle, about 10 years ago, the world was a very different place. Cell phones are now ubiquitous; they were certainly around but we didn’t rely on them for so many different things.
“Many things that we take for granted today are so much more prone to the process of space weather than was the case in the last solar maximum.”
There are a few scenarios that could cause a global Katrina, such as an asteroid, meteorite, or comet strike (although that could actually lead to a E.L.E.) and these sorts of solar storms. Asteroids and more became part of public consciousness after a pair of movies (Deep Impact and Armageddon); perhaps it’s time for a solar storm movie? You can watch a solar flare video in the sidebar.
Via: Daily Mail