Monday, July 16, 2012
The news is alive with reports of massive solar storms heading our way. Words like solar flares, coronal mass emissions, and geomagnetic storms cause those who understand to wring their hands with worry, and those who don’t to scratch their head in bewilderment. A better appreciation for what’s happening begins by understanding a little about the Sun.
Our magnificent Sun is a massive ball of hot plasma interwoven with powerful magnetic fields. It is brighter than 85 percent of the stars in our galaxy and estimated to be about 4.57 billion years old. The temperature at the surface is a relatively cool 5,800 degrees Kelvin, but at its core, can be as high as 15 million degrees Kelvin. It is primarily made up of hydrogen and helium, and accounts for over 99.8 percent of the mass in our Solar System. It’s more than 300,000 times more massive than Earth! The Sun is only 93 million miles from Earth (on average), meaning that it only takes light about 8 minutes for sunlight reach us.
The Sun has a cyclic magnetic field that completely reverses direction approximately every eleven years. Much like any wave, every solar cycle has a maximum and minimum. During the solar maximum, the Sun is particularly active, ejecting massive streams of charged particles into space. The next solar maximum is expected to occur in 2012 or 2013—hence all the news of late! If those emissions are in the direction of Earth, they can cause several types of disruptions, including weather changes, increased radiation levels, and electromagnetic field fluctuations.
How does all this affect us? First, and foremost, the Earth’s magnetosphere (the magnetic field originating from the makeup and movement of our planet) can be disturbed by geomagnetic storms. These “storms” can cause numerous problems, including disruptions to our electrical power grids, damage to spacecraft, hazards to astronauts, and interference with communications and navigation systems. Of these, experts tend to worry most about upsets to our electrical distribution system.
In 1859, a huge solar, later named the “Carrington Event,” disrupted telegraph wires, shocking operators and causing fires. It is estimated that if a similar emission was to happen today, our modern electrical grid would be severely damaged, causing billions of dollars in damage and the loss of power to millions of people worldwide. How likely is such an event? According to Dr. Arthur Bradley, author of several bestselling books on disaster preparedness, it’s all but certain. “This is really a case of when, not if.” There are some protective measures in place, including satellite monitoring systems and ground current detectors, which are meant to give early detection. However, these systems have never been put to the test, and many experts suggest that they will not provide adequate warning to shut down the electrical grid before the damage occurs.
So what can people do to prepare for a solar storm? Dr. Bradley says, “There’s no need to pack your electronics into a shielded box (a.k.a. Faraday cage) because, unlike an electromagnetic pulse, geomagnetic storms don’t couple well into small electronic systems.” What is important is to understand that a large solar storm could take down the electrical power grid, which in turn would quickly degrade or disrupt other key national infrastructures, including communications, food delivery, water purification and distribution, emergency services, and public transportation. Therefore, according to Dr. Bradley, “To prepare for a widespread event such as this, families need to set up micro-infrastructures to temporarily replace (or at least supplement) those that might be lost.” He suggests that a reasonable course of action might include stocking extra food and water, readying emergency heating and lighting sources, learning lifesaving first aid, establishing an emergency fund, and equipping your home with a backup electrical system, such as a generator or an inverter. For more information on disaster preparedness, consult his books, Disaster Preparedness for EMP Attacks and Solar Storms and the Handbook to Practical Disaster Preparedness for the Family.
Arthur T. Bradley, Ph.D. holds a doctorate in electrical engineering and currently works as a senior engineer for NASA. Dr. Bradley prescribes to the philosophy that preparedness should always be motivated by love and concern, never by fear or paranoia. He conducts free seminars around the world, teaching families how to establish effective disaster preparedness plans.
Posted by My OKC Mommy at 11:00 AM