Friday, March 9, 2012

Sun, Solar Superstorm, Worst Case For 2012-The Carrington Event

Warning for 2012, Carrington Super Flare of 1859 Could Happen Again

While we worry about future threats like global warming, North Korea and present threats like Iran’s escalating nuclear program, the sun’s propensity for belching out monstrous solar flares (like the Carrington event of 1859) could almost instantly create a world without modern conveniences, or even electricity. The sun could literally “bomb us back to the stone age”.

The Carrington Event also know as the Solar Superstorm of 1859, which occurred during solar cycle 10, was the most powerful solar storm in recorded history. It was the largest known flare and was seen by Richard Carrington and became known as the Carrington Super Flare.

The flare caused a (CME) coronal mass ejection to travel directly toward earth taking only 18 hours. The normal time it takes is three to four days but it traveled quickly because the CME cleared the way.

If you could envision the northern lights being seen as far south as Cuba and Honolulu and at the same time the southern lights being seen as far north as Santiago, Chile than you can imagine what happened during the Carrington Super Storm of 1859. 

Imagine reading a book or a newspaper without the aid of artificial light at 1:00 am in New York, Philadelphia or Baltimore. 

In addition, the geomagnetic disturbances were strong enough that U.S. telegraph operators reported sparks leaping from their equipment—some bad enough to set fires, said Ed Cliver, a space physicist at the U. S. Air Force Research Laboratory in Bedford, Massachusetts.

In 1859, such reports were considered mostly a curiosity. But if something similar happened today, the world's high-tech infrastructure could grind to a halt.

"What's at stake," the Space Weather Prediction Center's Bogdan said, "are the advanced technologies that underlie virtually every aspect of our lives." Solar Flare Would Rupture Earth's "Cyber Cocoon"

To begin with, the University of Colorado's Baker said, electrical disturbances as strong as those that took down telegraph machines—"the Internet of the era"—would be far more disruptive.

Solar storms aimed at Earth come in three stages, not all of which occur in any given storm.

First, high-energy sunlight, mostly x-rays and ultraviolet light, ionizes Earth's upper atmosphere, interfering with radio communications. Next comes a radiation storm, potentially dangerous to unprotected astronauts.

Finally comes a coronal mass ejection, or CME, a slower moving cloud of charged particles that can take several days to reach Earth's atmosphere. When a CME hits, the solar particles can interact with Earth's magnetic field to produce powerful electromagnetic fluctuations.

Considered High Tech in its Day, The Telegraph Office

"We live in a cyber cocoon enveloping the Earth," Baker said. "Imagine what the consequences might be."
Of particular concern are disruptions to global positioning systems (GPS), which have become ubiquitous in cell phones, airplanes, and automobiles, Baker said. A $13 billion business in 2003, the GPS industry is predicted to grow to nearly $1 trillion by 2017.

In addition, Baker said, satellite communications—also essential to many daily activities—would be at risk from solar storms.

"Every time you purchase a gallon or liter of gas with your credit card, that's a satellite transaction," he said.

But the big fear is what might happen to the electrical grid, since power surges caused by solar particles could blow out giant transformers. Such transformers can take a long time to replace, especially if hundreds are destroyed at once, said Baker, who is a co-author of a National Research Council report on solar-storm risks.

The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory's Cliver agrees: "They don't have a lot of these on the shelf," he said.

The eastern half of the U.S. is particularly vulnerable, because the power infrastructure is highly interconnected, so failures could easily cascade like chains of dominoes.

"Imagine large cities without power for a week, a month, or a year," Baker said. "The losses could be $1 to $2 trillion or more, and the effects could be felt for years."

In the meantime, scientists are scrambling to learn everything they can about the sun in an effort to produce even longer-range forecasts.

Media Report of 1859 - Baltimore Md.
On September 3, 1859, the Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser reported, "Those who happened to be out late on Thursday night had an opportunity of witnessing another magnificent display of the auroral lights. The phenomenon was very similar to the display on Sunday night, though at times the light was, if possible, more brilliant, and the prismatic hues more varied and gorgeous. The light appeared to cover the whole firmament, apparently like a luminous cloud, through which the stars of the larger magnitude indistinctly shone. The light was greater than that of the moon at its full, but had an indescribable softness and delicacy that seemed to envelop everything upon which it rested. Between 12 and 1 o'clock, when the display was at its full brilliancy, the quiet streets of the city resting under this strange light, presented a beautiful as well as singular appearance."

Rocky Mountain News
Shortly after midnight on September 2, 1859, campers in the Rocky Mountains were awakened by an "auroral light, so bright that one could easily read common print. Some of the party insisted that it was daylight and began the preparation of breakfast", according to the Rocky Mountain News.

The Evening Star, Washington DC
A brilliant display of Northern lights was witnessed from 8 o'clock to half-past 9 last night. The glare in the northern sky, previous to defining itself into the well-known features of the Aurora Borealis was sufficiently vivid to call out some of the fire companies.

The London Daily News
"Aurora Borealis" - Early this morning, between twelve and one, a most brilliant display of the above phenomenon was observed extending from the western hemisphere to the north-west, north and north-east, and reaching to the zenith. The appearance in the west was that of a large fire, but in the north and north-east it was of a violet colour, and with great brilliancy. This beautiful display lasted for about an hour, and then gradually died away, leaving a serene and unclouded autumnal sky. 
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