The Sun Could’ve Destroyed Civilization Two Years Ago
Being Irish, I have an innate hatred of the sun. That’s why I spend all my time online. But now it turns out the fiery bastard wants to take that away from me.
If an asteroid big enough to knock modern civilization back to the 18th century appeared out of deep space and buzzed the Earth-Moon system, the near-miss would be instant worldwide headline news.
Two years ago, Earth experienced a close shave just as perilous, but most newspapers didn’t mention it. The “impactor” was an extreme solar storm, the most powerful in as much as 150+ years…
Extreme solar storms pose a threat to all forms of high-technology. They begin with an explosion–a “solar flare”—in the magnetic canopy of a sunspot. X-rays and extreme UV radiation reach Earth at light speed, ionizing the upper layers of our atmosphere; side-effects of this “solar EMP” include radio blackouts and GPS navigation errors. Minutes to hours later, the energetic particles arrive. Moving only slightly slower than light itself, electrons and protons accelerated by the blast can electrify satellites and damage their electronics. Then come the CMEs, billion-ton clouds of magnetized plasma that take a day or more to cross the Sun-Earth divide. Analysts believe that a direct hit by an extreme CME such as the one that missed Earth in July 2012 could cause widespread power blackouts, disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket. Most people wouldn’t even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps…
According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina. Multi-ton transformers damaged by such a storm might take years to repair.
I blame George Bush.
That sounds like a really bad time. It would be kind of like that show Revolution, except you’d have no choice but to notice it.
Just imagine the impact on our everyday modern life… Dead cellphones! No e-mail! No Netflix! No BuzzFeed listicles! No tweeting about global warming! Also, society suddenly collapsing into roving bands of cannibalistic savages. But whatever.
Thanks for cutting us a break, Sol. This time.