There are many who believe the world will end next year because that is when the ancient Mayan calendar simply stops. Others read quatrains of the great seer, Nostradamus, and think he also predicts End Times in 2012. Religious zealots are again preaching the end is nigh. And then there is that multitude of Republicans absolutely certain the world will end if President Obama is reelected. If that gigantic atomic furnace we call our sun reenacts history, it will prove them all to be correct.
On August 1st and 2nd of last year, an entire hemisphere of the solar disk erupted. The side of the sun facing the earth convulsed in flares, waves of plasma, radio storms and glowing magnetic arcs that blew billions of tons of the sun into space. Astronomers saw solar mayhem so unusual, so violent, that its significance to civilization and life on earth is now being debated by astrophysicists, chemists, engineers, and even clerics. Our alert media did not tell you about it? Then watch the recording of the event by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory here.
What you will see if you click on the link is a movie of the sun taken in the extreme ultraviolet part of the spectrum; a clock in the lower left of the screen shows the time and date.
“Wow,”’ you say. “What a light show!” Yes, indeed, and when the solar tsunami reached the earth on August 3rd, it created an aurora borealis display as far south as Iowa. Earth’s magnetic field reverberated from the impact like a big bell hit by a sledgehammer. “Okay,” you say. “I’m sure glad that’s over.” Unfortunately, it is not over. In fact, it is just beginning. Analysts believe a second, greater solar flare is coming — in 2012.
Solar flares appear in eleven-year cycles. The science of why they happen, and how they affect the earth, is complex and replete with words like: coronal mass ejections, auroral electrojet, geomagnetic storm, and solar maximum — or solar max. And scientists, like Mausumi Dikpati of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, believe the next solar max will likely be a “doozy.”
Solar max events are fairly common. One in 1958 blew Northern Lights all the way down to Mexico. A 1972 solar max knocked out telephone lines across Illinois. In 1989, six million people in Canada were blacked out when their power lines were overloaded and fried. That solar max melted huge transformers as far south as New Jersey. In 2005, an x-ray storm left the sun at the speed of light, reached us in eight minutes, and interrupted satellite communications and GPS signals.
The biggest recorded solar max occurred in 1859, the famous Carrington White Light Solar Flare. That “doozy” caused night skies to erupt in auroras so brilliant that newspapers could be read as easily as in daylight. Northern Lights were seen in Cuba, Jamaica, and the Bahamas. Telegraph systems went wild, and sparks shocked telegraph operators and set telegraph paper on fire. Even when telegraphers disconnected batteries, powerful solar max currents in the wires still allowed messages to be transmitted.
In 1859, there were no satellites, of course. There were no cell phones, radio, television, GPS, or Internet. The national power grid did not exist either, and we weren’t dependent on electricity and electronics. Now imagine what would happen if a geomagnetic storm like the 1859 event occurred today, a solar max scientists estimate was driven by the power of 100 billion atomic explosions the size of the Hiroshima bomb!