April 2015 – SOLAR STORM – Perhaps, as a tech-savvy citizen, you are worried about the financial cost of data breaches, or our increased vulnerability to terrorist hackers, or the erosion of our digital civil liberties. Don’t be. Instead, worry about the complete collapse of our power grid. NASA is warning that there’s a 12 percent chance an extreme solar storm will hit Earth in the next decade, sending out massive shock waves that would knock out grids across the world. The economic impact of this doomsday scenario could exceed $2 trillion — or 20 times the cost of Hurricane Katrina, according to the National Academy of Sciences. NASA first made this warning in 2009, when a study it funded detailed what might happen to our high-tech society in the event of a super solar flare — essentially the equivalent of bad space weather. An extreme geomagnetic storm would follow, melting copper windings of transformers at the heart of many power distribution centers.
But few listened. And there was very little news coverage. Then in 2012, NASA’s prediction almost came true, with Earth experiencing a close shave by a solar storm that tore into our orbit. The storm hit a solar observatory that was equipped to measure the impact, providing precious data that confirmed NASA’s previous warnings of the severe consequences these storms pose. But again, few noticed. Recently, commemorating the two-year anniversary of the near-miss, NASA put out a press release with even more research, noting there’s a 12 percent chance that such a catastrophic solar storm will actually hit Earth in the next decade, with ramifications to modern society lasting for years. And again, no one noticed. It turns out scientists are really bad at PR. To be fair to them, society’s appreciation for science is abysmal anyway.
But the truth is that this is an issue every person on the planet should care about and not dismiss as far-fetched. In fact, it’s happened twice before: in a milder form in March 1986, when 6 million people in Quebec lost power for nine hours because of a small solar storm. And in 1859, a series of powerful solar storms hit Earth head-on, disabling our global telegraph system. The problem is that now, our society is much more susceptible to bad space weather because of our reliance on power grids that are increasingly interconnected. It makes economic sense, but it also leaves us vulnerable to cascading failures. There is no way to stop a solar storm, but there could be a way to warn us one is coming: by having sun- orbiting satellites on the lookout for flare-ups, giving us a chance to shut down our global power grid until the storm passes. Maybe it’s fitting that on Labor Day, we should call for the heroic workers at NASA to get the respect they deserve — and the funding necessary — to do just that. –GOP USA
CANYON OF FIRE’ OPENS ON THE SUN: A filament of magnetism stretching halfway across the sun erupted during the late hours of April 4th (22:00-23:00 UT). The eruption split the sun’s atmosphere, hurling a CME into space and creating a “canyon of fire,” shown in a movie recorded by the Solar Dynamics Observatory: The glowing walls of the canyon trace the original channel where the filament was suspended by magnetic forces above the sun’s surface. From end to end, the structure stretches more than 300,000 km–a real Grand Canyon.
Fragments of the exploding filament formed the core of a CME that raced away from the sun at approximately 900 km/s (2 million mph): image. Most of the CME will miss Earth, but not all. The cloud is expected to deliver a a glancing blow to our planet’s magnetic field could on April 7th. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras. –Space Weather
Sundays: A dystopian world burnt by the Sun