Friday, February 11, 2011

Huge Solar Storm on 2013 and Its Possible Impact to our Tech-driven life

Systems will fail to operate. Electronic devices will stop working. 

"The Sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and in the next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity. At the same time, our technological society has developed an unprecedented sensitivity to solar storms. The intersection of these two issues is what we're getting together to discuss."
- Richard Fischer, Head of NASA's Heliophysics section.

Before continuing, you should be familiar with the following terms:

  • Coronal mass ejection (CME) - a massive burst of solar winds and magnetic fields rising above the solar corona. 
  • Solar flares - a large explosion in the Sun's atmosphere that can release as much as a sixth of the total energy output of the Sun each second.
  • Solar storm (geomagnetic storm) - a combination of the two.


If you're familiar with dormant volcanoes turning active again, don't expect them to be nice. After years of inactivity, the amount of energy collected inside of them is incomparable to those active volcanoes erupting once every a certain amount of years. Let's talk about Mt. Pinatubo's case, which slept for almost four centuries, and bursting all its furies on June 1991 which affected almost 2.1 million people. But this is nothing compared to what this solar storm could do.

Science stuff.

The upcoming solar storm is said to be a combination of two phenomena: the sun reaching around 5500 degree Celsius which only occurs once every fifty years, and the Sun's magnetic energy to peak at its highest which only occurs once every 11 years. Scientists have observed that the sun has suddenly been silent these years. They call this solar minimum. But after reaching that state, the sun is expected to have its solar maximum.

History stuff.

This is not going to be the first solar maximum in history, it happened 152 years ago. The greatest solar storm recorded was on Septemeber 1-2, 1859. It is also known as the Carrington event, which is named after Richard Carrington, a British astronomer who observed this activity.

The Impact (before).

That was 1859. What do you expect? There are no computers yet. No mobile phones. No Twitter, of course. (Okay, it's not actually necessary to include that one.) There are only telegraphs. And the only reports of problems encountered during the event are papers on fire and telegraphs receiving and sending messages even if they were unplugged. (This one made me laugh as I was imagining it. Seriously.)

The Possible Impact (today).

As what Dr. Fischer said, the issue here is its effects to us. This era, most of us depend mostly on electronics and wireless technology, and this is going to be a problem. As you know, this technology uses electromagnetic waves to transmit data. The storm could broke transformers in a split second. It could shut down satellites. Most systems will malfunction, or even stop operating. Sensitive ones like those in hospitals and banks may encounter great problems. The damage on the U.S. and world economy could be thrice of Hurricane Katrina's. There will be a catastrophic chain reaction. 

Precautions should be made.

A Space Weather Enterprise Forum was held at National Press, Washington D.C. on June 2010 to discuss this issue. The main discussion fell to how they are going to deal this issue with the public. Since even people under the middle-class uses mobile phones, they need to explain this event conscisely. 

NASA scientists only have approximations on how great the damage might be. I think they're not really obliged to measure how this will affect us because it's not a part of their job. But I'm thankful they are still doing it for the public, for our sake. In return, we should do what we can. I couldn't imagine why people just read and forget this news while this is something that should be prepared for.

Current news is showing signs that this is not too far to happen. 2013 is only an approximity, the storm could happen in advance, we don't really know. But as long as we are constantly getting the latest news and start preparing ourselves, there should be less problem.


And yes, I'm expecting to see the northern lights when this takes place. 


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