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When Space Weather Attacks Earth

timothy posted about a year ago | from the nature-black-and-cold-and-harsh dept.

Space 176

Lasrick writes "Brad Plumer details the 1859 solar storm known as the Carrington Event. Pretty fascinating stuff: 'At the time, it was a dazzling display of nature. Yet if the same thing happened today, it would be an utter catastrophe...That's not a lurid sci-fi fantasy. It's a sober new assessment by Lloyd's of London, the world's oldest insurance market. The report notes that even a much smaller solar-induced geomagnetic storm in 1989 left 6 million people in Quebec without power for nine hours.'"

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OMG 9 hour... (1, Flamebait)

Valentinial (2980593) | about a year ago | (#44270375)

9 hours no electricity? what a catastrophe. I've done that for 9, 18, 24 or so hours, it was called camping

Re:OMG 9 hour... (2)

Brad1138 (590148) | about a year ago | (#44270393)

I do it every night, heat is off for summer and all electricity is off over night. I like to sleep for about 9 hours.

Attack of the Space Weather (1)

sanman2 (928866) | about a year ago | (#44272079)

We are canceling the space weather apocalypse!

Switch on the GlaDOS!

Re:OMG 9 hour... (5, Insightful)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about a year ago | (#44270467)

9 hours no electricity? what a catastrophe. I've done that for 9, 18, 24 or so hours, it was called camping

Depends. If your oxygen concentrator doesn't run for 9 hours or you can't keep your insulin cold for 9 hours, yeah it could be a catastrophe. If you have lederly parents to care for or young children, yes it could be a problem. But if you are just thinking of no light bulbs or tv, yeah, then it probably isn't a big deal. OTOH, no subways, elevators, mass transit, gasoline heating or cooling (depending on the time of the year and your location), no emergency response or telephones to even contact them. Would that be a catastrophe? For some it could very well be.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (4, Insightful)

Brad1138 (590148) | about a year ago | (#44270569)

It isn't uncommon to lose power for about a week with storms in this area. We loose power for about 9 hours probably once a year or so and for a week about once every 10 years. We all manage to survive. You can't stop the storms, so you deal with it. I don't see these solar storms as any worse and they are MUCH less frequent.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44270673)

You sort of missed the point. A full-blown Carrington Event, like in 1859, could result in many months or perhaps a year without electricity. It's relatively easy to sit out a few hours or perhaps a week without power, but I think that you would find it a different story with out power for half a year or year (or tightly rationed power for that period of time). Like, perhaps you wouldn't have a job, and there would be signficant food shortages...

Re:OMG 9 hour... (2)

khallow (566160) | about a year ago | (#44270935)

A full-blown Carrington Event, like in 1859, could result in many months or perhaps a year without electricity.

Or it might be just a couple of days till the event is over. It apparently is not that hard to protect this sort of equipment against the sort of surges that a Carrington Event would generate.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (2)

maxwell demon (590494) | about a year ago | (#44271403)

A full-blown Carrington Event, like in 1859, could result in many months or perhaps a year without electricity.

Or it might be just a couple of days till the event is over. It apparently is not that hard to protect this sort of equipment against the sort of surges that a Carrington Event would generate.

Only if you do it. And it will only be done if those responsible for it are aware of the danger.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (1)

khallow (566160) | about a year ago | (#44271933)

Only if you do it. And it will only be done if those responsible for it are aware of the danger.

They'll have at least a day or two of warning. Possibly much more. Even if they do nothing to prepare, that's enough time to take critical components off the grid.

And if we're talking about it on Slashdot, then they're aware of it to some degree.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (2)

maxwell demon (590494) | about a year ago | (#44272175)

They'll have at least a day or two of warning.

Not if they no longer have the means which provide the warnings, due to cost-cutting.

And if we're talking about it on Slashdot, then they're aware of it to some degree.

Great logic. "You've warned us and thus now we are aware. Since we are aware, you should not have warned us."

Re:OMG 9 hour... (1)

khallow (566160) | about a year ago | (#44272213)

And if we're talking about it on Slashdot, then they're aware of it to some degree.

Great logic. "You've warned us and thus now we are aware. Since we are aware, you should not have warned us."

No, I have to disagree. That's terrible logic. And completely irrelevant to what I wrote. For example, I said nothing about what anyone "should" do.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (3, Insightful)

ancientt (569920) | about a year ago | (#44271461)

It's a long article, I can understand why you might not have gone through it. Here's some snipsthat might be important to note and that caught my attention when I was reading up on it previously.

...if even 20 transformers in the Northeast were knocked out, the logistical challenges would be "extremely concerning."

In the worst case, it could leave 20 million to 40 million people in the Northeast without power - possibly for years - as utilities struggled to replace thousands of fried transformers stretching from Washington to Boston.

..."That's a key vulnerability," Smith says. "If you had a really big solar event, there just aren't enough replacement transformers available. It can take up to 12 months to build new ones."

...One problem, says Chris Beck of the Electric Infrastructure Security Council, is that many of these technologies are expensive and could make the current grid slightly less efficient in its day-to-day operations.

"We've designed our power lines to work efficiently under perfect conditions - long transmission lines, high voltages," Beck says. Unfortunately, those characteristics make the grid particularly vulnerable to a solar storm. So there's a trade-off.

So yeah, Lloyd's of London and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission disagree with you for good reasons.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (1)

khallow (566160) | about a year ago | (#44272073)

And those "good reasons" are? The main argument is arguing that if we ignore solar activity of this magnitude, we can fry a lot of hard to replace stuff. The solution is obvious. Don't ignore it.

Second, I don't buy that it'll take a year to replace such components. My take is that a competent, large machine shop can crank out a replacement inside of about a week. It won't be up to whatever specs they have for those specialized transformers and other components, so don't load it like fresh from the factory equipment. I don't buy that they can't jury rig a functioning grid in a short span of time.

"We've designed our power lines to work efficiently under perfect conditions - long transmission lines, high voltages," Beck says. Unfortunately, those characteristics make the grid particularly vulnerable to a solar storm. So there's a trade-off.

Third, power lines aren't working under anything resembling perfect conditions. A lot of bad things happen to them already, including strong solar storms. The speaker here is just blowing smoke. Sure, long transmission lines are relatively bad when a solar storm hits. But the capability to handle high voltages have the opposite effect, making them more resilient to high voltage effects of solar storms.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about a year ago | (#44272245)

My take is that a competent, large machine shop can crank out a replacement inside of about a week.

Even if that large machine shop is also not getting electricity? And where does it get the needed materials in such a short time?

BTW, can you explain how you get to that assumption?

Re:OMG 9 hour... (1)

jftitan (736933) | about a year ago | (#44271823)

My question is... Do I have to keep paying my Electric bill if the power is out for nearly a year. I surely would SAVE A TON! in not paying for electricity.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about a year ago | (#44272041)

Normally the major part of your electricity bill is the energy (kWh) you used. If the power is out, you certainly don't use any, therefore you don't pay any.

Of course there's the question about the price you pay for the fact that electricity is available to you. If the electricity is not available for a longer time, you could possibly argue that they didn't fulfil their part of the contract, and therefore you don't have to pay. However IANAL.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (2)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about a year ago | (#44270707)

It isn't uncommon to lose power for about a week with storms in this area. We loose power for about 9 hours probably once a year or so and for a week about once every 10 years. We all manage to survive. You can't stop the storms, so you deal with it. I don't see these solar storms as any worse and they are MUCH less frequent.

You are talking about a small geographic area, they are talking planet wide and actually for an entire year.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year ago | (#44271743)

if you can generate local power and the utility goes out regularly it's not a problem.. the power needed to keep the city running(as a functioning social concept, police etc) and hospitals you can still get as long as it doesn't fry everything, totally, everywhere, which it doesn't seem to(since spares aren't affected).

if your generator gets fried then it becomes a bit of a bigger problem. unless your refrigator runs on gas and you have an ample supply. but it doesn't seem a carrington event would fry every generator? the article just talks about transformers and how it would take years and years to replace them.. which frankly seems unlikely. the event wouldn't even remove the wiring, which is something that could take years to put back up if the wires and poles suddenly disappeared. but the telegram wires didn't disappear in a blink of flash.

the article is just a bit.. well, it's written in the vein of "we are unprepared and cutting money from the wrong things because tomorrow something COULD happen!" but it's kinda boring in context of for example yellowstone exploding.. or any other number of events that could cause problems. carrington event just seems like one of those events that would make unemployment disappear for couple of years and put the internet down for maybe a month - a major event, sure, but not as major as a zombie apocalypse or ww2.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (1)

sribe (304414) | about a year ago | (#44271907)

It isn't uncommon to lose power for about a week with storms in this area. We loose power for about 9 hours probably once a year or so and for a week about once every 10 years.

6,000,000 people at once???

It's not just the duration, but also the extent...

Re:OMG 9 hour... (1)

budgenator (254554) | about a year ago | (#44272205)

In a normal weather storm induced blackout things generally work once the downed power-lines are repaired, in a space weather induced blackout, there are tremendous current loops transformers exploding, lines melting, electronics frying; things are not going to work.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (2, Interesting)

jklovanc (1603149) | about a year ago | (#44270651)

If your oxygen concentrator doesn't run for 9 hours

There are other reasons that solar flares that cause power outages. If one's life depends on concentrated oxygen one should have a backup supply to last a few days.

you can't keep your insulin cold for 9 hours

According to the FDA [fda.gov] insulin will last quite a while without refrigeration.

Insulin products contained in vials or cartridges supplied by the manufacturers (opened or unopened) may be left unrefrigerated at a temperature between 59F and 86F for up to 28 days and continue to work. However, an insulin product that has been altered for the purpose of dilution or by removal from the manufacturer’s original vial should be discarded within two weeks.

There are many reasons power can be out for quite a while; weather, earthquake, equipment failure, etc. The point is that short term, less than a few days, without power should be able to be handled by individuals. If a catastrophe is going to happen if the power goes out for a few days there is a much bigger issue than space weather.

PS. I see this as another misuse of a word to sensationalize a story. Space weather may cause local problems but not catastrophes.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about a year ago | (#44270765)

There are many reasons power can be out for quite a while; weather, earthquake, equipment failure, etc. The point is that short term, less than a few days, without power should be able to be handled by individuals. If a catastrophe is going to happen if the power goes out for a few days there is a much bigger issue than space weather.

PS. I see this as another misuse of a word to sensationalize a story. Space weather may cause local problems but not catastrophes.

Yes there are, but with the exception of equipment failure when sever weather or earthquake occur, don't we call those natural disasters? Maybe disasters and catastrophes are two different things? From the article, though, they aren't talking about power being off for a few hours in a small area, but the power grids being destroyed world wide and taking a year or more to rebuild them. Satellites would be destroyed, so most communications would be out, even if power were restored. It might not be a catastrophe like the people in Pompei experienced, but for modern societies, they would have real problems.

Look at that cruise ship that was without power for a few days, now imagine that scenario across the entire country. No electricity also means no water, no gas (both natural and gasoline), no oil, no manufacturing no retail no nothing. Sure there are emergency generators but they aren't meant to last for a year and when their fuel runs out where will they get more from? The local gas station doesn't have a generator to pump the gas out of the ground.

The article is not crying out "Prepare for the end of the world!" No, all it is saying is that steps should be taken to harden the power grid and essential systems so that if an event occurs, power can quickly be restored.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (2)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about a year ago | (#44270825)

If you cannot survive without electricity for 9 hours, you have to expect to die.
Hell 3 days would be my absolute minimum, with multiple backup plans planned.
Sure, there are broader cases, and legitimate reasons.

I think here in Canada, they strictly recommend that you are capable of surviving one or two days if you go out driving in winter. Because there is a chance that you and hundreds of others will be stuck in a blizzard and trapped without outside help for at least that long.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (2)

CAIMLAS (41445) | about a year ago | (#44271217)

Gasoline heating or cooling via electricity? Where is this common practice?

Most gasoline is stored below ground at stations for the purposes of preventing vapor volume loss. I'm not aware whether transport trucks employ cooling systems, but I doubt it's terribly necessary due to the volume of liquid we're dealing with.

Now, diesel heating is another matter. But even diesel is stored below ground, and the heating is usually done by inline vehicle systems.

I'd be interested in knowing more about this if you have any more info. I'm not finding much through a google search.

As far as the effects of what is basically a global EMP, we'd basically be dealing with a complete failure of modern infrastructure. Even old point-based automotive systems (no modern electronics) would likely have issues if it's bad enough - they still rely upon electricity. Older diesels could be push or crank started, but that'd require some messing.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about a year ago | (#44271435)

Gasoline heating or cooling via electricity? Where is this common practice?

I'm pretty sure he just forgot a comma after "gasoline".
So: No gasoline (because the pumps don't work), no cooling (almost all cooling depends on electricity; note that the most important cooling is not air condition, but food cooling), no heating (although in most regions, electricity is not used directly for heating, most central heating systems still depend on electric pumps to transport the heat to the rooms).

Re:OMG 9 hour... (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about a year ago | (#44271939)

You are correct, thank you.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#44271501)

That gasoline goes below ground, but the pumps to get it out are electric. No power, no pumps.

The gas station operators could open the fill hole and stick a hand-pump in, but it'd be very slow to dispense - and with panic buying inevitable, the queue could take hours to get through.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (1)

harperska (1376103) | about a year ago | (#44271831)

Hand pump out enough gasoline to start a generator, and use it to power the pumps for dispensing?

Re:OMG 9 hour... (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about a year ago | (#44271951)

Hand pump out enough gasoline to start a generator, and use it to power the pumps for dispensing?

I'll play. And where do you get the generator from? I'm pretty sure if it were as simple as hand pumping or using a generator to get gas from the storage tanks, then when there are natural disasters, people would do exactly that. However that is not the case.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (1)

khallow (566160) | about a year ago | (#44272183)

I'm pretty sure if it were as simple as hand pumping or using a generator to get gas from the storage tanks, then when there are natural disasters, people would do exactly that. However that is not the case.

What do you mean that's not the case? Is there some disaster where they were unable to do this?

Re:OMG 9 hour... (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about a year ago | (#44271931)

That really should have read no gasoline, heating or cooling... instead of no gasoline heating or cooling. The heating and cooling was referencing climate control depending on what time of year this hit (or hemisphere).

Still, while it would be possible to use a generator to power the gas pumps, you won't be able to run down to the local Home Depot and pick one up and just wire it in. For one, they just don't stock that many. And secondly, it is unlikely that they would have one large enough for a gas station to use to run it's pumps. Then there is the whole business of how the gas distributor is going to fill the trucks to get the gas to the station in the first place.

Put differently, look how disruptive a major storm can be and that is usually over a limited geographic area so that the rest of the country can marshal resources and send help. Now expand that to an entire continent or the planet.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#44271491)

Don't forget roads in urban areas. No power means no traffic signals.

Re:OMG 9 hour... I'm ready are u ? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44272019)

Before Y2K and after seeing War of the Worlds a few times I knew it was time to be ready for space dangers. Now I'm ready with lots of tin-foil covering the house attached to a grounding rod. A few hundred pounds of ramen noodles and a canary bird to warn if gas. Bring it on!

Re:OMG 9 hour... (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about a year ago | (#44270577)

9 hours no electricity?

. . . means 9 hours of no light pollution. Awesome, for watching the amazing aurora borealis! No TV? No Internet? Get outside, and look at a sky that you will never see again!

Of course, let's hope that hospitals and such are prepared . . .

Re:OMG 9 hour... (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#44270807)

9 hours no electricity?

. . . means 9 hours of no light pollution. Awesome, for watching the amazing aurora borealis! No TV? No Internet? Get outside, and look at a sky that you will never see again!

What if it's cloudy?

Re:OMG 9 hour... (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about a year ago | (#44271459)

... and that the solar storm didn't destroy their emergency equipment.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (2)

jamesh (87723) | about a year ago | (#44272131)

9 hours no electricity?

. . . means 9 hours of no light pollution. Awesome, for watching the amazing aurora borealis! No TV? No Internet? Get outside, and look at a sky that you will never see again!

Of course, let's hope that hospitals and such are prepared . . .

... for the triffid uprising after everyone goes blind!

Re:OMG 9 hour... (3, Insightful)

tnk1 (899206) | about a year ago | (#44270579)

In the worst case, it could leave 20 million to 40 million people in the Northeast without power — possibly for years — as utilities struggled to replace thousands of fried transformers stretching from Washington to Boston.

Nine hours was the relatively minor 1989 event. Something like the Carrington event could be much, much more damaging.

I'll leave it to your imagination how it might be to live and work in major urban areas with a severely damaged grid.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (4, Interesting)

icebike (68054) | about a year ago | (#44270777)

Nine hours was the relatively minor 1989 event. Something like the Carrington event could be much, much more damaging.

Nine hours Is about the maximum duration and the Carrington event wasn't much longer than that. Once your part of the world rotates into the dark you are shielded from most of the the CME effects. (Not all, but the most damaging high energy flow is diverted around the earth).

Further CMEs don't tend to last more than a couple days at worst. And they take 3 to 4 days to arrive, so people have time to unplug stuff, and even to de-energize and temporarily ground long transmission lines. Your local power company already knows where every manual disconnect switch is, and can have the local grid broken into small segments and de-energized in mere hours. Some of these are in cabinets in your neighborhood, and some are on power poles (long rod running to a locked lever arm near the ground).

Long un-grounded transmission lines (or similar structures, even electric fences) are the most easily effected. But anything that is grounded periodically (every few miles) is not particularly affected. Nobody thought of this in the era of telegraph, but its built into every system these days with the possible exception of highpower transmission lines.

Modern building wiring, with GFI and GFCI would probably all trip, preventing a lot of infrastructure damage, and if not, you've got 4 days to plan manual breaker tripping.

These surges won't affect big pump motors as the story suggests, because 1) you know they are coming ahead of time, 2) its easy to disconnect the pump motors from the mains, and start your local diesel generators for the duration. The disconnect switch gear and the local generators are already built into critical infrastructure. Short runs between the backup generators and the pumps would not build up any induced currents.

The story is a great deal of hyperventilating by people who don't really understand how infrastructure is built these days.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44271055)

Long un-grounded transmission lines (or similar structures, even electric fences) are the most easily effected. But anything that is grounded periodically (every few miles) is not particularly affected.

The most subtle troll I've seen in a while.

Re:OMG 9 hour... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44271793)

Or a Culture Ship Mind.

Re:OMG 9 hours? 9 days? Half a year? (2)

hendrikboom (1001110) | about a year ago | (#44270657)

I lieved in Montreal during that blackout. The weather was fine that evening. I turned the power off on my computer (in case the power came on flaky) and went for a walk. A block or so away there was someone who had decided to sit on hos porch with a guitar. Several of us gathered around to listen.
Much later I went to bed. In the dark, natch.
It wasn't much of a problem for me, no.

But if it has been longer, and in midwinter, it would have been a problem.

Come to think of it, I've lived through such an event, too.

The ice storm of 1998. I missed the actual storm (I was in Oxford at the time), but I came home to the aftermath.The 9 centimetres of ice on everything had made power lines too heavy to support themselves, and the long-distance lines were out. I came home to a dark city. I called my wife from the airport on arrival (the phone system was still working -- there was still some power, but it had been directed to essential services, such as phones and hospitals.). The family had been forced out of the house by intense cold -- although we had an oil furnace, it turned out that the actual thermostat and burner used electricity to ignite the oil. Useless.
  We were out of the house in an emergency shelter at a local hospital.

Now that was for a power outage of about ten days in the city. Electricity workers from the entire continent were flown in to repair the electrical systems. Some parts of Quebec were without power for about a month -- effectively evacuated into emergency shelters of various kinds.

I'm not sure the shelter system would have been sustainable for the six months expected from a serious solar storm. That one in 1989 was tiny compared with the one in 1859. Another one like the 1859 one could well occur this century. And we wouldn't be able to fly specialized emergency workers in from the whole continent. Every place will have its own problems to deal with.

Back in 1859 our technology was much less vulnerable. It's different now, and we should be trying to design such vulnerabilities out or our infrastructure as we continue to upgrade it in a relentless adoption of newer and newer technologies.

It's not just a nine-hour problem we may have to deal with.

-- hendrik

Re:OMG 9 hours? 9 days? Half a year? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44270981)

I was a kid back the ice storm and I have fond memories of those nine days without showers. We were locked inside the house forced to play monopoly and eats fondues bourguignonne every night.

Re:OMG 9 hours? 9 days? Half a year? (1)

hendrikboom (1001110) | about a year ago | (#44271727)

Sounds like you had basic necessities, such as heat. Without that my place became unlivable.

And did you have a huge stock of nonspoiling food? Or did you have the miracle of an accessible functinoing groceryy store?

-- hendrik

Re:OMG 9 hours? 9 days? Half a year? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about a year ago | (#44272113)

The grocery store isn't the main problem (assuming it has enough food of the right type -- that is, not needing to be cooled -- on stock). You don't need any technology to exchange money for food, and hopefully the people working there haven't yet forgotten how to add numbers without having an electronic cash desk helping them (they also might have pocket calculators with working batteries, or even solar powered ones, to do that). Getting new food delivered will be a problem, but that will take a longer time to surface (assuming the grocery store applies good selling guidelines so that the supplies are not quickly bought off by hoarders).

Of course if you don't have that cash, you're doomed. Because your credit card won't work without electricity. Nor the ATMs. And since most probably your bank has no longer a paper record of your account and the computers are not working, even personally showing up at your bank won't help.

Re:OMG 9 hours? 9 days? Half a year? (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#44271523)

Landlines are powered from the exchange. All exchanges have backup batteries and generators for just that situation - because in an emergency, you really want the phones to work so the injured can call 911.

It could become a serious concern with the loss of landlines in favor of cellphone and VoIP though. The infrastructure for those is much more distributed, and generally doesn't have much in the way of backup power. It's not practical to put a generator in every street cabinet and base station - those generators need regular inspections and maintenance.

Re:OMG 9 hours? 9 days? Half a year? (1)

hendrikboom (1001110) | about a year ago | (#44271853)

I arrived at the airport, which was powered with emergency power, and tried calling my wife on my cellphone. Apparently cell phones still worked at the airport, because I reached my wife, who turned out to be at an emergency shelter at the hospital, which also had some kind of emergency power (she's a doctor there).

The first I really knew about the ice storm was in the newsreels on the flight from Heathrow, where I say huge hydro towers falling over one after another like dominos.

-- hendrik

About as much damage as Y2K (1, Troll)

Brad1138 (590148) | about a year ago | (#44270385)

I always hear about solar flares/storms etc. and the damage they can/will cause, but I have never once been affected by them. Seems like much ado about nothing.

Re:About as much damage as Y2K (2)

dtolman (688781) | about a year ago | (#44270449)

Wow, with that kind of forward thinking you could run for Congress, or be a pundit!

Hey - I have some land on Mount St Helens that I'd like to sell - want some?

Re:About as much damage as Y2K (2)

icebike (68054) | about a year ago | (#44270885)

Wow, with that kind of forward thinking you could run for Congress, or be a pundit!

Hey - I have some land on Mount St Helens that I'd like to sell - want some?

Yeah, I'll take that land. Its probably safe for another 30 thousand years.

Look, you are being unfair.

CMEs do not affect earth suddenly without warning. You get 3 to four days before the effect reaches earth.

That is plenty of time to announce and plan for 1 one day power grid shutdown. You trip every breaker in the local grid, and you can protect the local transformers as well as the residential electronics. (Most grids can do this remotely.) You need several miles (10 or 50) before the effect of the CME will induce dangerous current. Every power cord isn't going to suddenly become a lethal chunk of wire.

There is not a boogie man under your bed.

Re:About as much damage as Y2K (5, Insightful)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | about a year ago | (#44270451)

I suppose you've also heard about plague, AIDS and the measles, but if you've never been affected by them, then it must be a lot of made up rubbish, right?
1) Smaller solar flares have affected the grid before. It's not unthinkable that a big one as mentioned in TFA can break a lot more stuff. Stuff that isn't exactly off the shelf in quantity. Might be a rare event, but if we can plan against it, maybe we should? Beats sitting in the dark for weeks.
2) Speaking of Y2K... the reason nothing happened is because companies took action. I've been involved in Y2K work at the time, and while a lot of it was bullshit ("Make sure the coffee machines are Y2K-ready or we're doooooomed"), the power plant and telco I worked for would have been severly affected by Y2K if nothing had been done. Some of that was simply being prepared for any disaster; their systems had never been offline completely (only parts of it), and there was no procedure for a cold restart.

In other words, when doom is called, consultants scramble to grab a piece of the hyped pie, companies take rational stock of their own situation and apply fixes as needed, and the general public scoffs as the event passes as another non-event, because of preparation and planning

Re:About as much damage as Y2K (2)

Artifakt (700173) | about a year ago | (#44270739)

I suspect the general public sees the hyped claims of various consultants a lot more than it sees the rational steps being taken. Why? because those "consultants" are trying to get free advertisments for their services by using the news. As long as the news facilitates this, the public either gets a distorted view, or has to go to the much more radical step of rejecting the basic trustworthyness of ALL news. Deciding the whole of mass media, entering your home for hours every day, is trying to con you, is a much bigger step than deciding a bunch of power companies, scientists, and odd little government agencies you seldom think about (i.e. the National Institute of Standards) are doing it.

Re:About as much damage as Y2K (2)

khallow (566160) | about a year ago | (#44270919)

Deciding the whole of mass media, entering your home for hours every day, is trying to con you, is a much bigger step than deciding a bunch of power companies, scientists, and odd little government agencies you seldom think about (i.e. the National Institute of Standards) are doing it.

Depends on which media and scientists we're speaking of. For example, CNBC apparently spent a lot of time selling the Facebook IPO, including all day coverage on the day Facebook hit the stock market. Fox News is notorious for its bias. CNN just airs "live coverage" rather than actual news these days. And just about everyone notices that when news coverage from most sources actually brushes on knowledge that you know, they tend to get it very wrong - often in ways that are convenient for them. Con artists do that.

On the other side, you have "climate change" and the various shenanigans surrounding that. Such as James Hansen's 1998 testimony where they cut the A/C so they could get a great photo op.

Or "climategate", the leakage of emails from University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit, which didn't have much in the way of actual crime (aside from Russian tax evasion and deliberately disobeying the UK Freedom of Information Act). But it did have remarkably bad code for vital tasks, chest thumping climatologists vowing (perhaps seriously perhaps not) to block publication of heretical research (and its subsequent insertion in IPCC records), and discussing concerns with research only in private (eg, the infamous "hide the decline" remark about not including tree ring data after 1960 in climate reconstructions).

In other words, a mask for public consumption which hides a somewhat more biased and human side. Con artists do that too.

Re:About as much damage as Y2K (1)

icebike (68054) | about a year ago | (#44270857)

, the power plant and telco I worked for would have been severly affected by Y2K if nothing had been done.

The billing system would have been doomed, but power generation and call handling would have gone on just fine.
Worst case would require a reboot of computerized call switching gear.

I made a significant amount of money running through code in many different data systems preparing for y2k, and
my analysis indicated that the systems we dealt with would have continued to run, but results would be wrong, people wouldn't get
paid, or would get paid too much, sure. But if we just waited out the month of January, most of the date checks would
have started to work (at some level) again. We even ran tests on this on some systems.

Many systems were just too massive (too much data) to restructure, so we just restructured the date comparisons with
a "nearby" logical comparison* routine, allowing them to continue to run there old 6 digit dates for ever. The systems won't exist
at y3K, but if they did, they would work just as well then.

Re:About as much damage as Y2K (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44270879)

Yes, the Y2K thing was treated very well.
Very good work to all of them. Some machines did actually fail as well due to people not doing anything, or gave odd results to thinks.

Equally, there is the similar Y38K.
Even though by that date, you'd expect all those old machines to be out of service for a long time, there will likely be some still sitting around in common use.
Most likely the ones that are will also be incapable of being updated since they'd usually be embedded systems with no firmware updates possible.
Not sure if any tests have been done to see how systems would react to Y38K, especially with things like file integrity.

I'm sure there are a few other odd random ones sitting in and around that are usually the fault of software bugs from devs not following standards right, or misreading them.
I'm sure I have seen that quite a few times, especially in e-mail systems where it showed 2038 dates for e-mail arrival.

Re:About as much damage as Y2K (1)

multimediavt (965608) | about a year ago | (#44271005)

In other words, when doom is called, consultants scramble to grab a piece of the hyped pie, companies take rational stock of their own situation and apply fixes as needed, and the general public scoffs as the event passes as another non-event, because of preparation and planning -- by JaredOfEuropa

God bless those Europans.

Re:About as much damage as Y2K (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about a year ago | (#44271659)

I suppose you've also heard about plague, AIDS and the measles

Plague? I stopped sleeping with punk rock girls with pet rats in their beds back in the '80s.

AIDS? What do middle aged white guys care about AIDS? Not even their wives will have promiscuous sex with them.

Measles? Kids get inoculated before they can worry about becoming autistic from the inoculation.

It will be very difficult to rid the world of all human beings . . . we're like the toenail fungus of Mother Earth. Sure, take away our electricity and a lot of folks will suffer and die, but we'll still manage to get along somehow. We can't even destroy ourselves as a species, although we've put our best minds, leaders and efforts into the task.

You see, as this guy in a bar was just telling me the other night:

Man is a singular creature. He has a set of gifts which make him unique among the animals: so that, unlike them, he is not figure in the landscape - he is the shaper of the landscape ... But nature - that is, biological evolution - has not fitted man to any specific environment. On the contrary, by comparison with the grunion he has a rather crude survival kit; and yet - this is the paradox of the human condition - one that fits him to all environments.

Re:About as much damage as Y2K (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about a year ago | (#44270497)

I always hear about solar flares/storms etc. and the damage they can/will cause, but I have never once been affected by them. Seems like much ado about nothing.

You've probably hear alot but never been directly affected by terrorist attacts either. Doesn't mean that the risk isn't real and that society shouldn't prepare for it just incase.

Re:About as much damage as Y2K (0)

yndrd1984 (730475) | about a year ago | (#44270757)

You've probably hear alot but never been directly affected by terrorist attacts either. Doesn't mean that the risk isn't real and that society shouldn't prepare for it just incase.

And perhaps your country hasn't gone on a decade-long rampage of killing people and destroying civil liberties in response to terrorism. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't be wary people who may be overreacting to significant, but rare, problems.

Re:About as much damage as Y2K (2)

The Mighty Buzzard (878441) | about a year ago | (#44270775)

Meh, US society would be a hell of a lot better off if we did absolutely nothing to mitigate terrorist attacks than as things stand now. Sadly, "give me liberty or give me death" has largely been replaced by "keep me safe at all costs" in popular sentiment.

Re:About as much damage as Y2K (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about a year ago | (#44270905)

Meh, US society would be a hell of a lot better off if we did absolutely nothing to mitigate terrorist attacks than as things stand now. Sadly, "give me liberty or give me death" has largely been replaced by "keep me safe at all costs" in popular sentiment.

That's besides the point. But as Benjamin Franklin said: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Re:About as much damage as Y2K (2)

artor3 (1344997) | about a year ago | (#44270555)

The reason Y2K turned out not to be a big deal is because millions of programmers worked round the clock to fix their code in time. I would expect that people on Slashdot, of all places, would understand that.

Unfortunately, we won't get sufficient advanced warning of a major solar storm.

Re:About as much damage as Y2K (2)

sphealey (2855) | about a year ago | (#44270621)

Well, if you lived in Quebec or worked for any of the Canadian electric transmission providers your viewpoint might be a bit different...

sPh

*AHEM* (0)

Chas (5144) | about a year ago | (#44270413)

Dooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooommmmmmmmmmmmmmm!!!

We is all gonna die?

*Rolleyes*

Re:*AHEM* (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44270447)

Dooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooommmmmmmmmmmmmmm!!!

We is all gonna die?

Let's hope so.

Re:*AHEM* (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44271107)

Ah, an environmentalist. BTW, it's not customary to announce your true goal outright.

Re:*AHEM* (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about a year ago | (#44271499)

Well, according to past evidence, yes, we all gonna die. However probably not all at the same time.

Re:*AHEM* (1)

32771 (906153) | about a year ago | (#44271929)

If DOOM happened and say 1billion died, only one in 7 would be gone. Would you even notice it all that much? I mean even some big event taking a billion of people away would be a major catastrophe and yet we could go on without noticing the real impact. (Seeing piles of dead people in the news isn't real impact). With a little bit of doom you could still justify your view - remarkable.

Re:*AHEM* (1)

aled (228417) | about a year ago | (#44272193)

Astronomical events could do that easily. For example a big asteroid collision, direct hit by long gamma ray burst, change in (supposedly) cosmical constants and others.

Infrequent (3, Informative)

NonSequor (230139) | about a year ago | (#44270509)

The Carrington Event caused aurora borealis to be visible around the world. I'm not aware of anything else like that being reported in recorded human history. Even if it had happened before the development of writing, you would think it would be the sort of thing that would have a major impact on legends across all world cultures. So my best guess is that from the span of time from, let's say, 3000BC to 2013AD, this has happened exactly once.

Wikipedia says that ice core studies show that events like this which produce high energy protons comparable to the Carrington Event occur with a frequency of roughly once every 500 years, however it briefly mentions that these other events aren't necessarily comparable in terms of geomagnetic impact.

Re:Infrequent (4, Insightful)

VitaminB52 (550802) | about a year ago | (#44270685)

'Once every 500 years' is not equal to 'with 500 years interval'. The next Carrington Event could be tomorrow.

Worse, even events less powerful than the Carrington Event occur more frequently than the Carrington Event and can cause significant damage to our high voltage infrastructure.

Re:Infrequent (2)

Artifakt (700173) | about a year ago | (#44270839)

Scientists have a pretty good estimate for how common Supernovas are, but that number does not match well with how many were reported in history. We know that the Chinese observed at least one supernova that nobody in Europe bothered to write down. There's evidence suggesting that a lot of the 'plague of this, plague of that' events in Exodus are concurrent with a massive volcanic eruption on the isle of Santorini and that the Egyptians were, at the very least, informed about this eruption by traders, but if so, it's not in any official Egyptian record (and you think it would have been to their advantage, if only to counter any claims by their ex-slaves that all the Egyptian gods had just had their asses kicked by something called Yahweh).
        Yes, you would think somebody should have recorded an event like the Carrington auroras, but we do have examples where a large and well developed culture seems to have just stuck their fingers in their ears and ignored the whole plague of miracles/mind-numbing-problem/disaster/end of the world/whatever till it went away. This seems to be exactly the thing the phrase "Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Absence." was coined for. Your best guess is 'once', mine is 'once, baring something weird that seems to happen more than you'ld think, when humans are involved'.

Re:Infrequent (1)

khallow (566160) | about a year ago | (#44271355)

Yes, you would think somebody should have recorded an event like the Carrington auroras, but we do have examples where a large and well developed culture seems to have just stuck their fingers in their ears and ignored the whole plague of miracles/mind-numbing-problem/disaster/end of the world/whatever till it went away.

Or a subsequent pharaoh scrubbed that record clean because it wasn't his plagues and miracles.

Re:Infrequent (3, Interesting)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | about a year ago | (#44271087)

Even if it had happened before the development of writing, you would think it would be the sort of thing that would have a major impact on legends across all world cultures. So my best guess is that from the span of time from, let's say, 3000BC to 2013AD, this has happened exactly once.

Okay, first off, if we're talking about legends and mythology, there's enough ambiguity about all sorts of tales that have to do with sky phenomena or gods/heroes/whatever who interact with stuff in the sky that there could very well be accounts buried somewhere in those mythical stories... we just can't separate them out from all of the other weirdness.

Even among Norse mythology [wikipedia.org] , where you'd expect at least some significant discussion of aurora phenomena given where they lived, historians aren't even sure what -- if anything -- may be referencing auroras in those legends.

And if we're talking about recorded history, there are a lot of "lights in the sky" kind of events, with Chinese records in particular going back thousands of years. Figuring out whether such things could be supernovas or comets or perhaps auroras is often not easy -- descriptions can be ambiguous. And events that were visible globally often weren't recorded with the same detail -- for example, the Chinese clearly record the apparently significant appearance in 1054 C.E. of the supernova that has led to the Crab Nebula, but I don't think anyone has found a clear reference to that in European astronomical records.

In sum, whether we're talking about history or pre-history, there's plenty of stuff that went on up in the sky, and plenty of stories about it. But I don't think we can come anywhere close to saying for certain that no one observed unusual auroras or whatever due to some event like this in the entire history of civilization.

Re:Infrequent (2)

maxwell demon (590494) | about a year ago | (#44271551)

Joshua 10:13

So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.

It is not impossible that oral tradition changes an event where it was bright enough to read at night into an event where the sun was shining all night.

Some Background Information (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44270549)

Space weather [tikalon.com]

In Quebec (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44270571)

In Quebec, they make as much use of hydroelectric power generated on northern rivers as they can. They use it for normal uses of electricity, but also for heat (where you might use natural gas or heating oil otherwise). They carry it over long distances by way of large (somewhat unsightly) power pylons/transmission towers. Acting as a wonderful antenna, these exposed, unshielded power conduits are exposed to solar radiation, and also ice (see ice storm, 1998). If you have a localized source of power, you will not likely notice the affects as much.

Fuses (2, Insightful)

iamacat (583406) | about a year ago | (#44270603)

Or we could start protecting our central power infrastructure the same way most homes are protected - by having it switch off rather than blow up when overloaded for any reason.

Re:Fuses (2)

sphealey (2855) | about a year ago | (#44270633)

Brilliant! Why haven't the grid operators thought of that one?!?

sPh

Of course, large power transformers can be damaged by electromagnetic storms even when fully disconnected from the grid...

Re:Fuses (1, Insightful)

fnj (64210) | about a year ago | (#44270745)

Of course, large power transformers can be damaged by electromagnetic storms even when fully disconnected from the grid...

Bull.

Re:Fuses (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44270701)

Not sure this would be politically possible. Consider the response of others on this thread wrt the Y2K, and how they would respond to losing power or a few hours or a day because the power was deliberately shut off.

Re:Fuses (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44271161)

Except it already happened, as in the case already citing in Quebec was due to breakers tripping...

Re:Fuses (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44271103)

That is what happened in Quebec in 89, it wasn't power outage due to damage, but a power outage due to breakers tripping. Once the mess was cleared up, it was mostly a matter of turning things back on, and not replacing large amounts of equipment.

Known problem, already dealt with. (5, Informative)

Animats (122034) | about a year ago | (#44270619)

The last time someone got wound up about this on Slashdot [slashdot.org] . And, last time around, I linked the PJM power grid training document on geo-magnetic disturbances. [pjm.com] They know about the Carrington Event. They know all about the problem in 1989, which happened on their system and damaged some transformers.

The problem shows up as DC current on long AC lines, because voltage at "ground" differs across points hundreds of miles apart. This can damage transformers. So they have DC current monitoring in place at some key points on their system. Corrective action is taken when "DC measurement of 10 amps or greater measured at Missouri Avenue in Atlantic City and/or Meadow Brook Station near Winchester Virginia". Some long-distance lines have to operate at reduced capacity. Some generating plants are told to reduce output. Others have to crank up to compensate.

Medium sized disturbances of this type happen a few times a year (more at the high point of the sunspot cycle). Only one warning so far this year, on June 29th. April 11, 2010 was the most recent disturbance event that required that action be taken. The warning came in from NOAA's Space Weather Center, and people in power grid control centers (the US has seven) reconfigured the power grid to prepare for it.

Re:Known problem, already dealt with. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44270847)

Go away! Logic and rational thinking has no place on slashdot!

Re:Known problem, already dealt with. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44270925)

Would DC long distance power transmission (instead of AC) be more tolerant to geo-magnetic disturbances?

think big (3, Interesting)

tloh (451585) | about a year ago | (#44270627)

Understandably, the later half of the article talks about current solutions utilities and governments are considering to protect the infrastructure. However, let us just suppose for a moment that we are a type I civilization on the Kardashev scale. What type of conceptual solutions could be used to protect the whole planet instead of just small patches of people?

Re:think big (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44271125)

I thought we are a Type 13 planet doomed to self-destruction?

Love,
  - 790

Re:think big (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44272313)

You don't. Same story with GRBs.

OMG Sharknado! (2)

istartedi (132515) | about a year ago | (#44270671)

From SPACE!!! Alienado. I'm not just going to sit here and write about it. I'm going to throw bombs into space.

Most precious item during such a cataclysm ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44270901)

Is having a gun with sufficient ammo to protect yourself. After 1 week when panic really starts to hit and riots occur people will become like immoral wild beasts scavenging every bit of drinkable water, edible food and burnable fuel. Let's pray this never happens, ...

You see, kids? (1)

bytesex (112972) | about a year ago | (#44270953)

'Telegraphs in Philadelphia were spitting out âoefantastical and unreadable messages,â'

That's why, today, we have error correction.

Re:You see, kids? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about a year ago | (#44271585)

'Telegraphs in Philadelphia were spitting out âoefantastical and unreadable messages,â'

That's why, today, we have error correction.

Except for Slashdot posts, obviously. ;-)

Don't worry. (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#44271267)

“We’re much more dependent on electricity now than we were in 1859,” explains Neil Smith, an emerging-risks researcher at Lloyd’s and co-author of the report. “The same event today could have a huge financial impact” — which the insurer pegs at up to $2.6 trillion for an especially severe storm. (To put that in context, Hurricane Sandy caused about $68 billion in damage.)

(To put that in context, $2.6 trillion is about two years worth of federal borrowing. So in other words, don't sweat it. Congress won't bat an eye heaving it onto the debt.)

Wait a tick... (0)

Mashiki (184564) | about a year ago | (#44271341)

Is this the same Lloyds of London that said in 2007 that for businesses "climate change would be the highest output cost for policies and collection?" Fast forward to today, where piracy is a higher issue along with 23 other items.

Re:Wait a tick... (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about a year ago | (#44271599)

Fast forward to today, where piracy is a higher issue along with 23 other items.

Piracy as in copying movies, or piracy as in forcefully boarding ships?

Why is it called... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44271769)

... a CARRINGTON Event?

The article talked about everything except this? Is it something to do with Dynasty?

Re:Why is it called... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44272275)

From NASA [nasa.gov] :

The strongest geomagnetic storm on record is the Carrington Event of August-September 1859, named after British astronomer Richard Carrington who witnessed the instigating solar flare with his unaided eye while he was projecting an image of the sun on a white screen.

Re:Why is it called... (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about a year ago | (#44272361)

From Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] (emphasis by me):

The solar storm of 1859, also known as the 1859 Solar Superstorm,[1] or the Carrington Event,[2] was a powerful geomagnetic solar storm in 1859 during solar cycle 10. A solar flare and/or coronal mass ejection produced a solar storm which hit Earth's magnetosphere and induced the largest known geomagnetic solar storm, which was observed and recorded by Richard C. Carrington.

When the Ozone is Full of Clouds and (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44271815)

The highways are full of google-map guided computerized cars, the skies, at least around air-terminals, being already filled with radio and radar and computer-generated heads-up instrument displays dependent airplanes, then we will be ready for the earth to fly through a typhoonicane class geomagnetic storm. The best effects will be on human minds, which can't seem to stay on the rails even when they aren't being blown by geomagnetic squallings and electrical storms.

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