Tuesday, February 22, 2011

'Global Katrina': Biggest solar storm ever could cause power cuts for MONTHS

The world is overdue a ferocious 'space storm' that could knock out communications satellites, ground aircraft and trigger blackouts - causing hundreds of billions of pounds of damage, scientists say.

Astronomers today warned that mankind is now more vulnerable to a major solar storm than at any time in history - and that the planet should prepare for a global Katrina-style disaster. A massive eruption of the sun would save waves of radiation and charged particles to Earth, damaging the satellite systems used for synchronising computers, airline navigation and phone networks.

If the storm is powerful enough it could even crash stock markets and cause power cuts that last weeks or months, experts told the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The chances of a disruption from space are getting stronger because the sun is entering the most active period of its 11 to 12-year natural cycle. The world got a taster of the sun's explosive power last week when the strongest solar eruption in five years sent a torrent of charged plasma hurtling towards the world at 580 miles per second. ...

Solar storms are caused by massive explosions on the sun.

The explosions release waves of X-rays and ultraviolet radiation which smash into the Earth within minutes, disrupting radio signals and damaging the electronics of satellites. They are followed ten to 20 minutes later by a burst of energetic particles which cause even more havoc with satellites - and then 15 to 30 hours later by supercharged plasma which collides with Earth's magnetic field.

The plasma create the aurora - or Northern Lights - and can induce electrical currents in power lines and cables. Jane Lubchenco, head of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said: 'This is not a matter of if, it is simply a matter of when and how big.

'The last time we had a maximum in the solar cycle, about 10 years ago, the world was a very different place. Cell phones are now ubiquitous; they were certainly around  but we didn't rely on them for so many different things. 'Many things that we take for granted today are so much more prone to the process of space weather than was the case in the last solar maximum.' ...
via 'Global Katrina': Biggest solar storm ever could cause power cuts for MONTHS | Mail Online.

What happened last time?
From August 28, 1859 until September 2, numerous sunspots and solar flares were observed on the sun. Just before noon on September 1, the British astronomer Richard Carrington observed the largest flare,[4] which caused a massive coronal mass ejection (CME) to travel directly toward Earth, taking 18 hours. This is remarkable because such a journey normally takes three to four days. It moved so quickly because an earlier CME had cleared its way ...

On September 1–2, 1859, the largest recorded geomagnetic storm occurred. Aurorae were seen around the world, most notably over the Caribbean; also noteworthy were those over the Rocky Mountains that were so bright that their glow awoke gold miners, who began preparing breakfast because they thought it was morning.[4]

Telegraph systems all over Europe and North America failed in some cases even shocking telegraph operators.[5] Telegraph pylons threw sparks and telegraph paper spontaneously caught fire.[6] Some telegraph systems appeared to continue to send and receive messages despite having been disconnected from their power supplies.[7]

Here is an account from an actual telegrapher:
Thursday, February 19, 1852

"Towards evening, a heavy blue line appeared upon the paper, which gradually increased in size for the space of half a minute, when a flame of fire succeeded to the blue line, of sufficient intensity to burn through a dozen thicknesses of the moistened paper. The current then subsided as gradually as it had come on, until it entirely ceased, and was then succeeded by a negative current (which bleaches, instead of coloring, the paper). This gradually increased, in the same manner as the positive current, until it also, in turn, produced its flame of fire, and burned through many thicknesses of the prepared paper; it then subsided, again to be followed by the positive current. This state of things continued during the entire evening, and effectually prevented any business being done over the wires."

Another account:
During the auroral display, I was calling Richmond, and had one hand on the iron plate. Happening to lean towards the sounder, which is against the wall, my forehead grazed a ground wire. Immediately, I receive a very severe electric shock, which stunned me for an instant. An old man who was sitting facing me, and but a few feet distant, said that he saw a spark of fire jump from my forehead to the sounder."  ...

I'm not worried about communications disruptions. No one is talking about the fires. This is the time to buy CO2 fire extinguishers that put out electrical fires. Lots of them.
Amerex CO2 Fire Extinguisher 5 lb.NOTE!: Never use a water extinguisher on grease fires, electrical fires ... - the flames will spread and make the fire bigger! CO2 extinguishers have an advantage over dry chemical extinguishers since they don't leave a harmful residue - a good choice for an electrical fire on a computer or other favorite electronic device such as a stereo or TV.  ... Class C fires involve electrical equipment ... - fire-extinguisher101.com

Even 144 years ago, many of Earth's inhabitants realized something momentous had just occurred. Within hours, telegraph wires in both the United States and Europe spontaneously shorted out, causing numerous fires - nasa

The extremely high currents resulted in many telegraph wires short-circuiting, causing some telegraph poles to catch alight.  ... The CME was also responsible for the huge currents generated in telegraph wires. The
CME caused distortion of Earth’s magnetic field, establishing a constant flow of charge — a direct current —in the wires. This is an example of a geomagnetically
induced current - The Carrington Event: Flare or CME?

In 1859, wires were scarce, but not today. Imagine a fire starting anywhere there is a wire, and worse ... in 1859, there were no nuclear power plants and no nuclear bombs. Here's hoping to hell the bombs, pipelines, and billions of miles of wires we now have don't catch fire and/or explode burning down every major city.

The sun could send us back to the stone age.


  • If you get a shock and see blue flames coming out of your computer or other electronics, stay calm, grab your CO2 fire extinguisher

  • Stand on your Non-Conductive (Switchboard) Matt to be protected from deadly high voltage shocks. You'll only have to stand there for one evening if it is like the last time.

  • Be sure you use power strips or battery power supplies (UPSs) on your computers and other equipment.  They can absorb high voltage and save your stuff.

  • Put on your cool blue anti electric arc suit.



arjay001 said...

I thought we had a "BIG STORM" and nothing happened.

"com·pla·cen·cy   [kuhm-pley-suhn-see]
–noun, plural -cies.
1. a feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of some potential danger, defect, or the like; self-satisfaction or smug satisfaction with an existing situation, condition, etc."

Gast said...

Thanks a lot for the guide Xeno.
For a while I had the strange feeling that Hollywood blockbusters were preparing wider audiance for a possibility of major global disaster - well there is it. Will need to prepare a survival pack and perhaps a nice electronic-free diesel car. I think UK will be safer than for example US, but when shit hits the fan and things get really nasty it may be better to move out of the city for while anyways.