Remember what you were doing on July 23, 2012? That could have been the last day of peace and civilization you ever experienced.
Massive Solar Superstorm Narrowly Missed Blasting The Earth Back Into The Dark Ages
By Brid-Aine Parnell, Forbes Magazine contributor
As we blithely went about our lives on July 23, 2012, we had no idea how close we were to a Revolution-esque technology blackout caused by a huge magnetic superstorm from the Sun.
The freak space weather was caused by a rapid succession of coronal mass ejections, intense eruptions from the surface of the Sun also known as solar flares, which sent a pulse of magnetised plasma hurtling out into space and through the Earth’s orbit. If it had happened just nine days earlier, our world would have been hit, potentially wreaking havoc with the electrical grid, knocking out satellites and GPS and costing economies billions of dollars.
Although very rare, these storms haven’t always passed the Earth by. In 1859, the planet was struck by the so-called Carrington event, which knocked out the telegraph system across the US and literally shocked some of its operators, as the Northern Lights streaked through the sky as far south as Hawaii.
More recently, a small magnetic event in 1989 collapsed Canada’s Hydro-Quebec power grid and led to six million people going without electricity for up to nine hours.
(Picture of solar flare - NASA - That tiny blue dot on the left is the size of Earth compared to the sun's flare)
“ Had [the latest storm] hit Earth, it probably would have been like the big one in 1859, but the effect today, with our modern technologies, would have been tremendous ,” said Janet Luhmann, who is part of the STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Observatory) team and based at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory
Luhmann and physicist Ying Liu of China’s State Key Laboratory of Space Weather led a team in analysing the magnetic storm, which was detected by NASA’s STEREO A spacecraft and published their results in Nature Communications.
“An extreme space weather storm – a solar superstorm – is a low-probability, high-consequence event that poses severe threats to critical infrastructures of the modern society,” warned Liu.
“ The cost of an extreme space weather event, if it hits Earth, could reach trillions of dollars with a potential recovery time of 4-10 years . Therefore, it is paramount to the security and economic interest of the modern society to understand solar superstorms.”
A study last year estimated that a second Carrington event could cost the world $2.6 trillion.
The near-miss storm of 2012 started with a huge outburst on the Sun on July 22, which propelled a magnetic cloud through the solar wind at a peak speed of more than 2,000 kilometres per second, four times as fast as typical magnetic storms. The magnetic eruption tore through the space that Earth had occupied just over a week before, but luckily, Earth and the other planets were on the other side of the Sun at the time.*
The reason the storm became so fierce is because it was caused by at least two nearly simultaneous coronal mass ejections. Yet another ejection four days earlier had cleared away the materials that would have gotten in the way, allowing the magnetic cloud to work its way up to high speeds.
As well as being a high-speed event, the storm had a southward-oriented magnetic field that lasted for a long time, making it doubly dangerous for Earth. Southern orientation is exactly what the Earth doesn’t want, as it merges violently with the planet’s northward field.
“These gnarly, twisty ropes of magnetic field from coronal mass ejections come blasting from the sun through the ambient solar system, piling up material in front of them, and when this double whammy hits Earth, it skews the Earth’s magnetic field to odd directions, dumping energy all around the planet,” Luhmann said. “Some of us wish Earth had been in the way; what an experiment that would have been.”
“People keep saying that these are rare natural hazards, but they are happening in the Solar System even though we don’t always see them,” she added. “It’s like with earthquakes – it is hard to impress upon people the importance of preparing unless you suffer a magnitude 9 earthquake.”
Scientists haven’t had many opportunities to study solar superstorms, which is exactly why NASA launched STEREOs A and B to record blasts like this one.
“Observations of solar superstorms have been extremely lacking and limited, and our current understanding of solar superstorms is very poor,” Liu said. “Questions fundamental to solar physics and space weather, such as how extreme events form and evolve and how severe it can be at the Earth, are not addressed because of the extreme lack of observations.”
UPDATE FROM THE AUTHOR:
Some readers have pointed out that there seems to be an issue with the numbers here in that the eruption missed the Earth by nine days, but the Earth and the other planets were on the other side of the Sun at the time of the storm. Given that the Earth takes 365 days to orbit the Sun, the readers have suggested that to make it to the other side of the Sun would take 183 days or six months, not nine days.
Professor Ying Liu has kindly cleared the math up for us:
“That’s a matter about the rotation of the Sun, not the motion of the Earth around the Sun. The rotation period of the Sun is about 27 days, i.e., it completes a whole rotation of 360 degrees around its axis in about 27 days. The ejection hit STEREO A, a spacecraft which was about 120 degrees ahead of the Earth (west of the Earth). So if the eruption occurred 9 days earlier (one third of the rotation period of the Sun), it would have propagated toward the Earth, i.e., Earth would have been hit.”
Source - http://www.forbes.com/sites/bridaineparnell/2014/03/19/massive-solar-superstorm-narrowly-missed-blasting-the-earth-back-into-the-dark-ages/
The sun also emitted a strong solar flare recently, on February 24.
NASA: The sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 7:49 p.m. EST on Feb. 24, 2014.
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which keeps a constant watch on the sun, captured images of the event.
Read more and see pictures
SPACE.COM - WHAT'S UP IN SPACE?
March 20, 2014
SPRING IS AURORA SEASON: The seasons are changing. Today, March 20th, the sun crossed the celestial equator heading north. This marks the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere and autumn in the southern hemisphere. At this time of year, day and night are of nearly equal length--hence the name "equinox" (equal night). Moreover, spring is aurora season. Arctic sky watchers should be alert for Northern Lights in the nights ahead. Aurora alerts: text, voice
SOLAR 'SUPERSTORM' NARROWLY MISSES EARTH: The heliophysics communitty is buzzing today in response to an article in Nature Communications, which describes an intense solar storm that narrowly missed Earth almost two years ago. On July 23, 2012, a CME rocketed away from the sun at 2000 km/s, almost four times faster than a typical eruption. The storm tore through Earth orbit, but fortunately Earth wasn't there. Instead it hit the STEREO-A spacecraft, which experienced the most intense solar proton storm since 1976. Researchers have been analyzing the data ever since, and they have concluded that the storm was akin to the Carrington Event of 1859. Scroll past this movie of the CME to learn more:
Had it hit Earth, it probably would have been like the big one in 1859," says Janet Luhmann of UC Berkeley, a co-author of the paper. "The effect today [on] our modern technologies would have been tremendous."
The Carrington Event was a series of powerful CMEs that hit Earth head-on, sparking Northern Lights as far south as Tahiti. Intense geomagnetic storms caused global telegraph lines to spark, setting fire to some telegraph offices and disabling the 'Victorian Internet." A similar storm today would have a catastrophic effect on modern power grids and telecommunication networks. According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina. Multi-ton transformers fried by such a storm could take years to repair.
The paper in Nature Communications describes what gave the July 2012 storm Carrington-like potency. For one thing, the CME was actually two CMEs separated by only 10 to 15 minutes. Plus the CMEs traveled through a region of space that had been cleared out by another CME four days earlier. As a result, they were not decelerated as much as usual by their transit through the interplanetary medium.
The storm clouds crossed Earth's orbit in a place where Earth itself would be about 1 week later, so it was a relatively narrow escape. The whole episode highlights the perils of space weather. Many observers have noted that the current solar cycle is weak, perhaps the weakest in 100 years. Now we see that even a weak solar cycle can produce a very strong storm. Earth is not safe from these kind of events, so it's time to be prepared.
The original research reported here may be found in Nature Communications: "Observations of an extreme storm in interplanetary space caused by successive coronal mass ejections" by Ying D. Liu et al., published on March, 18, 2014.
check this out! Magnetic Filaments.
MAGNETIC FILAMENTS: The biggest structures on the sun today are not sunspots. Dwarfing all of the ordinary active regions, a pair of dark magnetic filaments are stretching across the almost-entire circumference of the sun's southern hemisphere. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory took this picture mid-day on March 19th:
Containing masses of relatively cool plasma held suspended above the solar surface by magnetic forces, the sinuous structures are each more than 600,000 km long. If you put one end on Earth, the other would stretch far beyond the orbit of the Moon. Their dimensions make them easy targets for backyard solar telescopes.
(Photo Solar Filaments - Space.Com)
Sometimes, magetic filaments such as these become unstable and collapse. This can lead to a Hyder flare -- a type of explosion that does not require sunspots. Hyder flares this week would likely be Earth directed as the filaments are both facing our planet.
It increasingly seems a matter of when, not if, we'll be thrown back into the Stone Age.
For a realistic and frightening scenario, read One Second After, a fictionalized story of what happens after the grid goes down permanently.