SCIENTIST UNDERLINES THREAT OF INEVITABLE ‘SOLAR SUPER-STORMS’
From the FMS Global News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton 31 July 2013 University of Bristol UK Physics World Thanks to Wikipedia Dr Martin Durrani, Michael Bishop, Ashey Dale
In this month’s issue of Physics World, Ashley Dale from the University of Bristol warns of the “catastrophic” and “long-lasting” impacts of “solar super-storms” and the dangers we face if the threat continues to go unnoticed.
Dale, who was a member of an international task force – dubbed SolarMAX – set up to identify the risks of a solar storm and how its impact could be minimized, explains how it is only a matter of time before an exceptionally violent solar storm is propelled towards Earth. Such a storm would wreak havoc with our communication systems and power supplies, crippling vital services such as transport, sanitation and medicine.
“Without power, people would struggle to fuel their cars at petrol stations, get money from cash dispensers or pay online. Water and sewage systems would be affected too, meaning that health epidemics in urbanized areas would quickly take a grip, with diseases we thought we had left behind centuries ago soon returning,” Dale writes.
Solar storms are caused by violent eruptions on the surface of the Sun and are accompanied by coronal mass ejections (CME). CMEs are the most energetic events in our solar system and involve huge bubbles of plasma and magnetic fields being spewed from the Sun’s surface into space.
CMEs are often preceded by a solar flare – a massive release of energy from the Sun in the form of gamma rays, X-rays, protons and electrons.
A solar super-storm occurs when a CME of sufficient magnitude tears into the Earth’s surrounding magnetic field and rips it apart. Such an event would induce huge surges of electrical currents in the ground and in overhead transmission lines, causing widespread power outages and severely damaging critical electrical components.
The largest ever solar super-storm on record occurred in 1859 and is known as the Carrington Event, named after the English astronomer Richard Carrington who spotted the preceding solar flare.
This massive CME released about 1022 kJ of energy – the equivalent to 10 billion Hiroshima bombs exploding at the same time – and hurled around a trillion kilograms of charged particles towards the Earth at speeds of up to 3000 km/s. Its impact on the human population, though, was relatively benign as our electronic infrastructure at the mega-quake, time amounted to no more than about 200 000 km of telegraph lines.
Dale makes it clear that these types of events are not just a threat, but inevitable. Indeed, NASA scientists have predicted that the Earth is in the path of a Carrington-level event every 150 years on average – which means that we are currently five years overdue – and that the likelihood of one occurring in the next decade is as high as 12%.
The 40-strong international team of scientists from SolarMAX gathered at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France, last year to identify the best ways of limiting the potential damage of a solar super-storm.
A sub-group of scientists concluded that advanced space-weather forecasting is the best solution, which could be achieved by sending an array of 16 lunchbox-sized cube satellites into orbit around the Sun. This network could give around a week’s notice of where, when and with what magnitude solar storms will take place, providing adequate time to switch off vulnerable power lines, re-orientate satellites, ground planes and begin national recovery programmes.
Dale’s own solution is to design spacecraft and satellites so that the sensitive, on-board instruments are better protected again sudden increases in radiation from solar storms. He suggests redistributing the existing internal architecture of a craft so that sensitive payloads are surrounded by non-sensitive bulk material such as polyethylene, aluminium and water.
“As a species, we have never been more vulnerable to the volatile mood of our nearest star, but it is well within our ability, skill and expertise as humans to protect ourselves,” Dale concludes.
Martin Durrani in his blog, physicsworld.com, believes we are five years overdue for a damaging solar super-storm
“These violent events can disturb the Earth’s magnetic field – potentially inducing damaging electrical currents in power lines, knocking out satellites and disrupting telecommunications. One particularly strong solar super-storm occurred back in 1859 in what is known as the “Carrington event”, so named after the English astronomer who spotted a solar flare that accompanied it. The world in the mid-19th century was technologically a relatively unsophisticated place and the consequences were pretty benign. But should a storm of similar strength occur today, the impact could be devastating to our way of life.”
It seems a solar storm can take various forms. So what do we do to protect ourselves from a solar storm? Please let us know what we can expect from the weather quite apart from the devastation we might suffer and the outcome. Do we need to build a shelter for ourselves?
Hopefully our weather men will have some idea in advance when all this is likely to happen albeit a few days. I hope we will have time to get prepared and button our hatches as they say.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Solar storm can refer to:
- Solar flare, a large explosion in the sun’s atmosphere
- Coronal mass ejection (CME), a massive burst of solar wind, sometimes associated with solar flares
- Geomagnetic storm, the interaction of the Sun’s outburst with Earth’s magnetic field
- Solar proton event, proton storm
- Previous solar storms
Solar storms are caused by disturbances on the sun, most often coronal clouds associated with coronal mass ejections (CMEs) produced by solar flares emanating from active sunspot regions, or less often from coronal holes.
Most living stars produce disturbances in space weather with the field of heliophysics the science that studies such phenomena; itself primarily an interdisciplinary combination of stellar astronomy and planetary science.
In the Solar System, the Sun can produce intense geomagnetic and proton storms capable of causing severe damage to technology including but not limited to large scale power power outages, disruption or blackouts of radio communications (including GPS systems), and temporary or permanent disabling of satellites and other spaceborne technology.
Intense solar storms may also be hazardous to high-latitude, high-altitude aviation and to human spaceflight. Geomagnetic storms are the cause of aurora. The most significant known solar storm occurred in September 1859 and is known as the “Carrington event”. The damage from the most potent solar storms is capable of threatening the stability of modern human civilization.
Electromagnetic, geomagnetic, and/or proton storms
- Solar storm of 1859 (“Carrington event”)
- Aurora of November 17, 1882
- May 1921 geomagnetic storm
- March 1989 geomagnetic storm
- August 1989
- Bastille Day event
- Halloween solar storms, 2003
The Bastille Day Flare or Bastille Day Event was a powerful solar flare on July 14, 2000, occurring near the peak of the solar maximum in solar cycle 23. Active region 9077 produced an X5.7-class flare, which caused an S3 radiation storm on Earth fifteen minutes later as energetic protons bombarded the ionosphere. It was the biggest solar radiation event since 1989. The proton event was four times more intense than any previously recorded since the launches of SOHO in 1995 and ACE in 1997. The flare was followed by a full-halo coronal mass ejection and a geomagnetic super storm on July 15-16. The extreme level, G5, was peaked in late hours of July 15
The Halloween Solar Storms in 2003 were a series of solar flares and coronal mass ejections that occurred from mid-October to early November 2003, peaking around October 28–29. Satellite-based systems and communications were affected, aircraft were advised to avoid high altitudes near the Polar Regions, and a one-hour long power outage occurred in Sweden as a result of the solar activity. Aurorae were observed at latitudes far south as Texas and the Mediterranian countries of Europe.
The SOHO satellite failed temporarily, and the Advanced Composition Explorer was damaged by the solar activity. Numerous other spacecraft were damaged or experienced downtime due to various issues. Some of them were intentionally put into safe mode in order to protect sensitive equipment. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station had to stay inside the more shielded parts of the Russian Orbital Segment to protect themselves against the increased radiation levels. Both the Ulysses spacecraft, which was near Jupiter at the time, and Cassini, approaching Saturn, were able to detect the emissions. In April 2004, Voyager 2 was also able to detect them as they reached the spacecraft.
These events occurred during Solar cycle 23, approximately three years after its peak in 2000, which was marked by another occurrence of solar activity known as the Bastille Day Flare.
There was apparently quite a lot of solar activity in the 2012 and 2013 period including solar flares.
Solar Cycle 24 is the 24th solar cycle since 1755, when recording of solar sunspot activity began. It is the current solar cycle, and began on January 4, 2008, but there was minimal activity until early 2010. It is on track to be the Solar Cycle with the lowest recorded sunspot activity since accurate records began in 1750.
Prior to the minima between the end of Solar Cycle 23 and the beginning of Solar Cycle 24, there were essentially two competing theories about how strong Solar Cycle 24 would be.
The two camps could be distinguished by those postulating the Sun retained a long memory (Solar Cycle 24 would be active) or whether it had a short memory (Solar Cycle 24 would be quiet). Prior to 2006, the difference was very drastic with a minority set of researchers predicting “the smallest solar cycle in 100 years.
“Another group of researchers, including those at NASA, were predicting that it “looks like its going to be one of the most intense cycles since record-keeping began almost 400 years ago.”
The delayed onset of high latitude spots indicating the start of Solar Cycle 24 led the “active cycle” researchers to revise their predictions downward and the consensus by 2007 was split 5-4 in favor of a smaller cycle. By 2012, consensus was a small cycle, as solar cycles are much more predictable 3 years after minima.
In May 2009 the NOAA/Space Weather Prediction Center’s Solar Cycle 24 Prediction Panel predicted the cycle to peak at 90 sunspots in May 2013. In May 2012 NASA’s expert David Hathaway predicted that current solar cycle would peak by the Spring of 2013 with about 60 sunspots. This smoothed sunspot number would make it the least active cycle in the past two hundred years.
In early 2013, after several months of surprising calm in solar activity, it was obvious that the Sun had slumped to its present lull from a very active 2011, seeming to contradict the widely predicted late 2012-early 2013 peak in solar flares, sunspots and other activity for the current Solar Cycle 24.
This unexpected stage has prompted some scientists to propose now a “double-peaked” solar maximum. Thus, according to solar physicist Dean Pesnell, of NASA’s GSFC, the 2011 surge might just have been part one of Solar Cycle 24’s peaks, and the second peak might occur in mid-2013 or later, possibly lasting into 2014.
As of May 2013, the predicted and observed size makes this the smallest sunspot cycle since Cycle 14 which had a maximum of 64.2 in February 1906.[
According to NASA, the intensity of geomagnetic storms during Solar Cycle 24 may be elevated in some areas where the Earth’s magnetic field is weaker than expected.
This fact was discovered by the THEMIS spacecraft in 2008. A 20-fold increase in particle counts that penetrate the Earth’s magnetic field may be expected. Solar Cycle 24 has been the subject of various hypotheses and commentary pertaining to its potential effects on Earth.
While acknowledging that the next solar maximum will not necessarily produce unusual geomagnetic activity, astrophysicist Michio Kaku has taken advantage of the media focus on the 2012 phenomenon to draw attention to the need to develop strategies for coping with the terrestrial damage that such an event could inflict. He asserts that governments should ensure the integrity of electrical infrastructures, so as to prevent a recurrence of disruption akin to that caused by the solar storm of 1859.[
The current solar cycle is currently the subject of research, as it is not generating sunspots in the manner, which would be expected. Sunspots did not begin to appear immediately after the last minimum (in 2008) and although they started to reappear in late 2009, they were at significantly lower than anticipated.
On April 19, 2012, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan predicted that the Sun’s magnetic field will assume a quadrupole configuration in Solar Cycle 24.
Throughout 2012, NASA posted several news releases discrediting the 2012 phenomenon and the so-called Mayan prophecy, and unlinking them with solar activity and space weather.
We had apparently been experiencing solar activity since 2008, 2009 and with more activity in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. For month by month accounts log on to
There are also some interesting videos you might like to see. See the list below captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO
Hope you have found this as interesting as I have, albeit a little disturbing in the long term. We thought we had trouble with the wars and fighting all over our world but it seems there are bigger ‘wars’ ahead of us from space. I do wonder if we would have experienced as much solar activity had we not ventured into that celestial sphere or hemisphere with our spacecrafts.
THE NEXT BIG EARTHQUAKE IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST
From the FMS Global News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton
August 3, 2014 by Stone Hearth News
Scientists have identified Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver as the urban centers of what will be the biggest earthquake, also called a mega-quake, in the continental United States.
A quake will happen–in fact it’s actually overdue.
The Cascadia subduction zone is 750 miles long, running along the Pacific coast from Northern California up to southern British Columbia.
In this fascinating book, The Seattle Times science reporter Sandi Doughton introduces readers to the scientists who are dedicated to understanding the way the earth moves and describes what patterns can be identified and how prepared (or not) people are.
With a 100% chance of a mega-quake hitting the Pacific Northwest, this fascinating book reports on the scientists who are trying to understand when, where, and just how big THE BIG ONE will be.
“More than just a dire warning about the “big one”…[Full Rip 9.0] renders the remarkable story of how geologists and other scientists have pieced together evidence of an immense Northwest “megaquake”…[Full Rip 9.0] may make you a little jittery (and cause you to re-evaluate your family’s earthquake readiness), but it is a captivating read even as it challenges long-held assumptions — including the firmness of the ground under your feet.
The Seattle Times
“Written by Seattle Times science writer Sandi Doughton, the book is a hard, fast and compelling look at the potential impact The Big One might have on us, and it documents the detective work being done by researchers who are trying to nail down the shifting tectonic structures below. It is recommended beach reading, as long as you know your tsunami evacuation route.”
Knute Berger, Seattle magazine
The new book called Full-Rip 9.0: The Next Big Earthquake in the Pacific Northwest was published in Jun 2013, is available from Amazon.com as a hardcover or Kindle edition
Amazon’s write up says, “With a 100% chance of a mega-quake hitting the Pacific Northwest, this fascinating book reports on the scientists who are trying to understand when, where, and just how big the BIG ONE will be. “
Back tomorrow Jeanne