As we head into a major solar cycle the world is more connected than ever before. Are we really prepared for life without smartphones, GPS and telecommunications? What happens if power grids go off line? And why is NASA so worried?
Ok, so what’s the concern here?
Over the last hundred years or so, astronomers have registered spots on the surface of the Sun. In 1843 German astronomer Heinrich Schwabe discovered that sunspots actually changed in quantity according to cycles, which he concluded was every 11 years on average. This cycle is set to peak around now.
So the Sun has Measles, what’s the big deal?
Sun spots are regions of the sun that are cooler than the surrounding areas. They are caused by fluctuations in the magnetic field that surrounds it. Sunspot activity brings solar storms.
Right, solar storms, that sounds a bit more dangerous
You bet, solar storms can disrupt technology in three ways: with magnetic, radio and radiation emissions.
Things that go bad in space obviously have the attention of NASA who have assembled numerous teams to investigate this over the years.
In one report referring to solar storms it was stated: “This would cost the United States “$1 trillion to $2 trillion in the first year“, and “full recovery could take 4 to 10 years.” According to the report “Severe Space Weather Events — Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts,” report (read more here)
If NASA is worried, you should be too!
But the Sun is so far away, won’t we have good warning?
Alright, there is actually a device in space called Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE). It sits about a million miles out from Earth. ACE is able to give about a one hour advance warning of impending geomagnetic activity.
Thing is, how quickly after NASA knows will we know?
How A Cranky Sun Can Ruin Your Day!
September 2, 1859, is when the greatest magnetic storm ever recorded hit the Earth. The so called “Carrington event” is named after Richard Carrington, the amateur British astronomer who took the lead in observing and explaining it. His records indicate this was a massive, massive event, but back then there wasn’t as much technology around so the effects weren’t that dramatic. (read more here)
Bye Bye iphone
Today, however it’s a different story. Solar storms can cause communication problems, disrupt GPS systems, and overwhelm high-voltage transformers short-circuiting energy grids. Clearly this is bad! For example, imagine disruption of the transportation, communication, banking, and finance systems. Not good.
Live through this
There’s no way to stop solar storms from happening. Just like many survival scenarios, the best cause of action is to stockpile supplies. If possible aim for supplies that could last 6 to 12 months or even longer. As solar storms can bring about massive amount of electromagnetic radiation you can kiss goodbye your phone. It is possible to shield radios and other equipment, however if your radio survives who are you going to talk to?