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In The News
   
 
 

 

In The News

 
April 2 - We're shockingly unprepared for an extreme weather event that could fry Earth's power grid

Article: Signs Of The Last Times
 

In the midst of droughts, wildfires, rapidly disappearing sea ice, and El Niño, it's easy to get caught up in weather here on Earth. But there's a little-known weather event that could do considerably more damage. What's worse, we've done little to prepare for it — and have no way to stop it. It's called a coronal mass ejection (CME) and its effects can be disastrous.
 
CMEs are enormous blobs of magnetized plasma that the sun hurls from its surface anywhere from several times a day to once a week. A CME can have a billion tons of mass, pack the energy of 20 million nuclear bombs, and — if aimed in our direction — reach Earth in a matter of hours

To understand what they can do, one need only look up the Carrington event of September 1859. That's when Earth was hit simultaneously by a CME and a solar flare, both the largest on record. During the Carrington event, people saw auroras as far south as Cuba. The storm also knocked out telegraph systems in much of the Northern Hemisphere. But "knocked out" doesn't quite cover it, as this anecdote from NASA makes clear:
 
Spark discharges shocked telegraph operators and set the telegraph paper on fire. Even when telegraphers disconnected the batteries powering the lines, aurora-induced electric currents in the wires still allowed messages to be transmitted. And this was before we relied on an expansive electrical grid, radio waves, satellites, computers, and other systems that are highly susceptible to solar storms.

Today a Carrington event-like storm would be more devastating than at any other point in history. In fact, a powerful event may cause $2 trillion in damage just in the first year, according to the US government, and take 4 to 10 years for the planet to recover.

The scientists behind that research don't know for sure if the sun can produce superflares. But if it can — and if it does — a superflare would not only make our electronics go haywire but also damage the ozone layer (raising the rates of deadly skin cancers, for example). Thousands of satellites also drift through the ionosphere, so a serious CME stands to disrupt the world's entire telecommunications infrastructure. 


 

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