This storm happened two years ago, but most people are just now hearing about it. Earth had a close call with a solar storm that would have severely altered daily life as we know it.
In July of 2012, if the storm would have hit Earth, it would have had such an impact that Daniel Baker with the University of Colorado told NASA’s Science News that “we would still be picking up the pieces.”
Baker and NASA employees described the storm as the most powerful in the last 150 years as well as how it could have affected life on Earth:
Extreme solar storms pose a threat to all forms of high-technology. They begin with an explosion – a “solar flare” – in a 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 that 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 and 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.
The National Academy of Sciences estimates that this storm could have a total economic impact of $2 trillion, or 20 times more that the costs of a Hurricane Katrina. Let’s not forget the infrastructure that would take years to repair or rebuild.
“I have come away from our recent studies more convinced than ever that Earth and its inhabitants were incredibly fortunate that the 2012 eruption happened when it did,” Baker told NASA. “If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire.
While the storm just missed Earth, it did manage to hit the one piece of equipment in space that is designed for such events. It hit a observatory called STEREO-A.
“Spacecraft such as the STEREO twins and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (a joint ESA/NASA mission) were designed to operate in the environment outside the Earth’s magnetosphere, and that includes even quite intense, CME-related shocks,” says Joe Gurman, the STEREO project said to NASA. “To my knowledge, nothing serious happened to the spacecraft.”
Without the data from the STEREO mission, Baker says that no one would have known about this storm and wonders how many more have happened that we just didn’t know about.
With knowledge of the severity of these types of storms, there should be and is a great push to prepare now.
“So it is essential that the power industry and policymakers better understand how (an extreme solar storm) would impact vulnerable systems (including the grid, global positioning system, radio and television communications, satellites, and aircraft), harden them where possible, and plan how to cope with the aftermath of a big storm,” wrote Reuters columnist John Kemp.
“Once a large flare is detected, the industry and policymakers would have just an hour or so to put the grid and other systems into the safest possible operating mode before the storm arrives,” he added.
Kemp emphasized the need for power companies to formulate plans of action to fix damages as well as ready the grid in a way as to reduce the load on transformers before the storm comes.
“We cannot stop a big solar storm arriving, but we can prepare and try to avoid its worst effects,” he concluded.
This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom