Wednesday, November 03, 2010

"Attack of the Sun" from Cosmic Journeys; Fox news in 2009 reports NASA warnings about 1859-style coronal mass ejection in 2012; a months-long power blackout for the US?

Cosmic Journeys, “Attack of the Sun” (Thomas Lucas and Dave Brody), starts with an account of the Halloween 2003 solar storm (not the Halloween Blizzard of 1991!) which occurred in the middle of the sunspot cycle, when activity is supposedly the lowest. The Sun emitted coronal mess ejections, making the Sun a “plasma weapon”.

A solar eruption in 1859 set fires in telegraph offices and gave shocks when people touched metal.

The film shows how the Earth, because it rotates quickly (once every 24 hours) has a magnetic field that tends to shield it from the storms somewhat. Venus, because it keeps one face to the Sun, has no such field, and solar storms in the past shred away much of its water, leaving it to build up a greenhouse effect. Earth-like planets around other stars, particularly M stars, may keep the same side toward their sun (if they are close in), which may argue against having magnetic fields and argue against having intelligent life, even if the planets are old and stable enough for civilizations to have developed. Nevertheless, the speculation (as in a National Geographic film on other suns a few years ago) is interesting.

Coronal mass ejections are more dangerous now than before because we are building a “smart energy grid” with many solar components sensitive to the static electricity in the ejections, meaning possible huge power blackouts.

CME’s would also affect the climate, exaggerating El Nino and La Nina in the Ocean.

Michio Kaku talks to Bill Hemmer at Fox News about the 1859 solar storm in this YouTube clip from Fox News (link), 4 minutes, made in April 2009. Kaku warns that an 1859-style event, according to a NASA study, would knock out the US power grid for months. It’s like a “Katrina from Space”. NASA published such a study in 2009, and warned there are some concerns about a solar super storm in 2012 (the Mayan end of time), which could fry the Earth’s technology if the planet happened to hit the CME while revolving around the Sun.  The most dire warnings compare the effect of a direct massive coronal mass ejection hit to that of a terrorist (or even extraterrestrial alien) electromagnetic pulse attack from high altitude.  Can critical instrastructure transformers be reinforced? I'm vaguely familia with the talk of military faraday cages for protection, going back to a 2001 Popular Science article just before 9/11; these would seem to apply to CME's as much as EMP's.

I’ll look for the newer NASA report soon. Here’s an older one from 2000, link.

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