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How a Solar Storm Two Years Ago Nearly Caused a Catastrophe On Earth

Soulskill posted about 2 months ago | from the call-ahead-before-dropping-by dept.

Space 212

schwit1 writes: On July 23, 2012, the sun unleashed two massive clouds of plasma that barely missed a catastrophic encounter with the Earth's atmosphere. These plasma clouds, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), comprised a solar storm thought to be the most powerful in at least 150 years. "If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces," physicist Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado tells NASA. Fortunately, the blast site of the CMEs was not directed at Earth. Had this event occurred a week earlier when the point of eruption was Earth-facing, a potentially disastrous outcome would have unfolded.

"Analysts believe that a direct hit 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. ... According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion, or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina. Multi-ton transformers damaged by such a storm might take years to repair." Steve Tracton put it this way in his frightening overview of the risks of a severe solar storm: "The consequences could be devastating for commerce, transportation, agriculture and food stocks, fuel and water supplies, human health and medical facilities, national security, and daily life in general."

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FUD filled.... (4, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | about 2 months ago | (#47530197)

" 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"

Every single water filtration plant has very large diesel generators that can run the place for months without electrical power. And no, a solar flare can not burn out giant motors and generators, all that can be ran easily without the SCADA system. In fact we used to run drills operating the place by hand, as most of the guys that did it from 1940 until 1990 did it mostly by hand.

Re:FUD filled.... (2)

Cryacin (657549) | about 2 months ago | (#47530235)

The Transformers... E-M-P'd they died.

Re:FUD filled.... (5, Informative)

Sockatume (732728) | about 2 months ago | (#47530629)

A solar storm isn't like a local EMP happening everywhere at once. It has a much lower intensity. It affects things like power grids is because they're spread over an enormous area, so the induced currents add up, but it won't even tickle systems that are disconnected from that grid.

Re:FUD filled.... (4, Funny)

Lumpy (12016) | about 2 months ago | (#47530739)

Real transformers dont die from EMP unless it is a direct hit by a megatron.

Re:FUD filled.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47531117)

Incoming [fdynamo1986.com] September 8th!

Re:FUD filled.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47531223)

From GP's comment "megatron" It's pretty obvious... I think you need to actually read what he said before you duck and cover.

Let me help you a bit with that...

https://www.google.com/search?... [google.com]

Re:FUD filled.... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47530355)

I agree that it's mostly going to be E3 pulse leaving properly fused line connected electronics spared.

But once all the transformers have been fried and the electrical grid is offline, how long does the fuel last? Obviously it's being rationed for essential services, would it last more than a few weeks? I think there is going to be a serious problem for anyone that doesn't have solar and guns.

Re:FUD filled.... (4, Informative)

Ol Olsoc (1175323) | about 2 months ago | (#47530485)

And no, a solar flare can not burn out giant motors and generators, all that can be ran easily without the SCADA system. In fact we used to run drills operating the place by hand, as most of the guys that did it from 1940 until 1990 did it mostly by hand.

You should research the Carrington event before you declare this all FUD

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S... [wikipedia.org]

In March 1989 much of Quebec lost power for the same thing.

Related are EMP pulses. We can make these ourselves. The Starfish prime and Soviet Project K tests got some old school electrical equipment all goofed up.

In short, huge induced currents in places where they shouldn't be can knock out the old school equipment - it just takes a big enough event. The little, more sensitive stuff we use today? Maybe we should look at it as a huge job creation plan fixing/replacing all the stuff that gets broken.

Re:FUD filled.... (2)

i kan reed (749298) | about 2 months ago | (#47530541)

The question becomes: how many people would die unnecessarily before we could recover, and how much of our annual GDP would it cost to perform the recovery?

Someone in the US energy department, at the very least, almost certainly has rough estimates of those questions, don't you think?

Re:FUD filled.... (2)

Ol Olsoc (1175323) | about 2 months ago | (#47530729)

The question becomes: how many people would die unnecessarily before we could recover, and how much of our annual GDP would it cost to perform the recovery?

Someone in the US energy department, at the very least, almost certainly has rough estimates of those questions, don't you think?

No doubt. As much as I might joke about job stimulus, it would be an awful situation. Almost like the worst case Y2K scenarios. But no doubt there are a lot of people who just won't believe it is possible. Can't see it, so it isn't there. So we'll just sit back and watch what happens.

Re:FUD filled.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47531091)

The worst problem over the next couple of THOUSANDS of years, would be all the nuclear plants exploding all over the world.

Imagine: Fukushima x 1000 x 1000

Re:FUD filled.... (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about 2 months ago | (#47531287)

Roll eyes and move on. I'm sorry you don't know how nuclear power plants work, nor how solar flares cause damage, but get with the program, son.

Critical electrical components in nuclear power plants are more than sufficiently shielded from electrical spikes, and EMPs don't cause magical explosions. Nor, if a melt down were somehow to occur, an explosion an expected outcome.

Re:FUD filled.... (2)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | about 2 months ago | (#47530845)

As the Quebec outage was one of the only effects of that particular event, while most other power systems were unfazed, and as much was learned from that even and changes made both in the Quebec system and pretty much all transmission systems to limit vulnerability, I would point to that event as a reason not to worry.

Hardened electronics (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47530865)

Actually, we know how to make hardened electronics, and we do make them.

But it does NOT come cheap, you have to add a number of protection (clamp) diodes to *EVERY SINGLE GATE* inside integrated circuits, for example. You've read that right: on a modern microprocessor, that's close to a billion extra diodes at the very least. These not only take up die space, they also cause other nasty issues re. signal integrity and low-voltage operation, especially at very high frequencies. Any interconects have to be sized to be able to deal with currents induced by a high dV/ds and high dV/dt (voltage variation in space or time), including those inside the chip. And you need an extra-tick discharge ground plane, which causes capacitancy problems (i.e. signal degradation on high-frequency operation).

And lots of protection circtuitry everywhere else, plus very effective ground shielding, and overvoltage peak clampers everywhere you have more than a few centimeters of any sort of conductor. It adds a lot of bulk, and it is expensive.

It is also standard fare for EMP-hardened military-grade portable devices that cannot be shielded behind several inches of stupidly well-grounded steel/copper faraday cages all the time, so it can be done. But "portable" in military speak can easily weight 30kg :-p

Re:Hardened electronics (1)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | about 2 months ago | (#47531113)

From what I understand of the effects of solar flare, there's no point in hardening electronics against them as the effects caused in short conductor runs are minimal. It affects power grids because of the length of conductors involved. Regular surge protection will protect plugged-in electronics against secondary effects on the grid.

Re:FUD filled.... (-1)

msauve (701917) | about 2 months ago | (#47530489)

Let us know how your attempt at starting that very large diesel generator by hand goes.

Re:FUD filled.... (2)

Sockatume (732728) | about 2 months ago | (#47530703)

I'm sure they've thought of that eventuality. Probably something involving an engineer-sized hamster wheel strapped to the axle and a cat-o-nine-tails.

Re:FUD filled.... (4, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | about 2 months ago | (#47530785)

Not hard at all. EMP does not blow up starter motors and does not blow up lead acid batteries. Hell all I have to do is connect jumper cables from the battery to the starter lugs to start the generator.

Granted that's far more difficult for the typical person that cant get past the "I pushed the button, it most be broke" thought process, but that is why most places actually hire competent employees to manage that stuff.

Re:FUD filled.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47530817)

Let us know how your attempt at starting that very large diesel generator by hand goes.

Probably the same way they do it now when the grid power goes down. You don't think they actually hand crank them today when the power goes out do you?

Re:FUD filled.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47530859)

Let us know how your attempt at starting that very large diesel generator by hand goes.

It goes very well, thanks for asking. Push the button, battery-powered starter motor starts it. (Hopefully you are not suggesting that backup electricity generators need grid power, because such a generator would be very silly indeed. And solar flares don't break small off-the-net devices such as batteries and starter motors. They break large structures (i.e. power grids) that can induce power from long wavelength radio waves. Don't confuse with high power high frequency events like nuclear explosions.)

Re:FUD filled.... (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 2 months ago | (#47531233)

silly, they have battery start

Re:FUD filled.... (3, Interesting)

swb (14022) | about 2 months ago | (#47531351)

When I toured the Union Electric hydropower plant in Keokuk, Iowa back in the 1990s when they still let you into places like that (with a camera, no less) the guy showed me a hand-crank the size of a bicycle wheel that was originally designed to dead start the plant when it was self-powered.

Apparently spinning that generated just enough power to get one of the turbines generating electricity and that was enough power to boot strap the entire plant.

Re:FUD filled.... (2, Informative)

Cardoor (3488091) | about 2 months ago | (#47530537)

im no expert on the topic (far from it) but im inclined to think the issue is less of water filtration plants working and more of 'last mile' connectivity. Here in NYC when we had the blackout (was is 02? 03?) my at the time fairly upscale apartment building in manhattan lost running water and flushing toilets as the pumps had no juice.

Re:FUD filled.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47530803)

That was your apartment building lift pump. At street level they had water.

FUD filled.... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47530641)

FUCK BETA!

Can't even reply properly to posts. FUCK!

Re:FUD filled.... (1)

Shompol (1690084) | about 2 months ago | (#47530947)

All of lower Manhattan (south of 34th St) could not flush toilet for two weeks after an explosion at local power station (due to hurricane Sandy). Where have you been with your "large diesel generators"?

Re:FUD filled.... (3, Informative)

Osgeld (1900440) | about 2 months ago | (#47531001)

it still worked at the street level, high rises have to have supplmental pumps to lift the water to upper floors, so ask your apartment manager where his generator was

Re:FUD filled.... (2)

wcrowe (94389) | about 2 months ago | (#47530971)

You make a good point. However, just playing devil's advocate here, your generators will only run so long as you can keep them supplied with diesel fuel. If the transportation and distribution system that the pipelines and trucks rely on to get the fuel from point a to point b is disrupted, you may have trouble keeping those generators running.

Most disaster preparedness is built on the assumption that help will arrive from the outside. But when EVERYWHERE is affected, help may not be available.

Nevertheless, the article is indeed a bit FUDdy.

Re:FUD filled.... (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | about 2 months ago | (#47531015)

I dont know about his area but here they are supplied by natural gas

Re:FUD filled.... (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 2 months ago | (#47531155)

I dont know about his area but here they are supplied by natural gas

Which, one assumes, also relies on pumps.

I doubt natural gas gets from point a to point b by magic.

Re:FUD filled.... (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 2 months ago | (#47530975)

As someone that works on engines all the time... the rule is:
You need Air, Fuel and Spark
All engines have electrical systems and depending on how complex (efficient) the engine is the electronics can be as minor as a magnet and magneto all the way up to vastly complex computer controlled ignition systems.

But more importantly, neatly all the valves in those plants are controlled by electricity. So losing power would be a problem if it weren't fixed fairly soon.

Re:FUD filled.... (5, Interesting)

Lumpy (12016) | about 2 months ago | (#47531099)

"You need Air, Fuel and Spark"

You must not work on many engines then....

Diesel does not need spark.

"but more importantly, neatly all the valves in those plants are controlled by electricity. " And they have geared handwheels on them for emergency backup.. Have you ever been in a Water filtration plant? I worked in one for over 7 years, during that time I had to operate the whole place by myself during two extended power outages, one actually blew up the main transformers on the premise and melted the 7200 volt power lines coming in to run our 350hp electric motors. I had a very hectic 30 minutes to run the 1/2 mile to the other end of the facility during a major thunderstorm to start the generators manually as we did not have auto start back then. Then run all the way back and manually close 4 60" gate valves by hand to shut down half of the water plant as water consumption dropped way down as most of the town was out of power. By the time the emergency response guys showed up and I opened the gates I had the 500,000 Gallon per day pumps running and the water towers in the city above a 75% full point.

What is fun is when you are in a pumphouse and the check valve fails and a 350hp motor is running backwards at full speed and someone does not answer the radio up at the control house and hits START on that motor. the smell of vaporized copper and ozone in the air when the breaker arms exploded and vaporized because 7200 volts at insane amps met a motor running backwards and acting like a direct short. My ears were ringing for a week.

Re:FUD filled.... (2)

rubycodez (864176) | about 2 months ago | (#47531283)

my cousin worked in one for years, they even had wall of 1930s knife switches in roped off area , and motor generators with open shafts where you could see the blur of the couplings....no idea if they've upgraded in the past two decades but I suspect solar flare not going to take out most the gear in my hometown's filtration and pumping plant. of course, in emergency the biggest concerns while running around would be either electrocution or getting snagged and chopped into hamburger.

Re:FUD filled.... (1)

Lumpy (12016) | about 2 months ago | (#47531339)

The 1920 pumphouse at the one I worked at was like that.

news for nerds in the speculative future(or past) (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47530229)

Seriously, I'm sick of these click bait, "OMG WHAT IF THE HAPPENED TO ."

Guess what, it didn't happen. It might happen in the future, it might not? It might not even make a damn bit of difference.

Re:news for nerds in the speculative future(or pas (2)

NotDrWho (3543773) | about 2 months ago | (#47530467)

Every time I see one of these new doomsday scenarios pop up, I know there is a media-savvy researcher somewhere looking to score a big grant.

Re:news for nerds in the speculative future(or pas (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47531375)

ding ding ding... we have a winner!

Re:news for nerds in the speculative future(or pas (1)

k6mfw (1182893) | about 2 months ago | (#47531027)

reading all this stuff of potential disasters... is it numbing our sense of urgency? There was a time when we had no idea of many dynamics of the Sun (there were no spacecraft). It is scientifically interesting, an IRIS scientists said the solar system is a system, the sun is not constant and causes non-constant interactions to planets. Speaking of disasters that have happened, might happen, a nearby star can go supernova. Or there could be a nearby gamma ray burst. But looming catastrophe is shrinking reserves of water that is safe to drink.

We can't live without these things? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47530239)

Really? This would be devastating? We can't live without electricity, electronics, water pumps? It's amazing we're here today!

Re:We can't live without these things? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47530249)

Oh, most would probably live. It just would totally suck. I guarantee your retirement portfolio would be wiped out. And there would be a fair number of fatalities.

Re:We can't live without these things? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47530507)

I guarantee your retirement portfolio would be wiped out.

Investment portfolios are the very opposite of work. It would be great to return to a time when people didn't profit from the labour of others. I, for one, welcome our Carrington overlords.

Re:We can't live without these things? (1)

morgauxo (974071) | about 2 months ago | (#47531059)

I suppose you don't age then? You will keep working until the day you die?

Re:We can't live without these things? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47531431)

"Most would probably live"
True, but for how long? Most of our society is highly dependent on an intricate transportation & production network that falls apart if the power is off for more than a few days. Compounded with the fact that most residences don't keep more than a few days worth of food & water on hand if this doomsday scenario (global power grid down for weeks/months) occurred millions, possibly hundreds of millions would likely die via dehydration, starvation & disease (from a lack of sanitation). As several regional disasters have proven, after the power goes out store shelves are quickly cleaned out, people are stranded by vehicles they can't refuel & without the skills/knowledge to deal with the situation they get desperate.

Re:We can't live without these things? (5, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 months ago | (#47530545)

Really? This would be devastating? We can't live without electricity, electronics, water pumps? It's amazing we're here today!

Yes, it very likely would. All those urban areas that grew as big and relatively healthy as they did, thanks to clean water and efficient sewage systems? If that wasn't brought back online, fast, they'd start moving toward their pre-sanitation population levels. The hard way.

Same would apply for agricultural areas and yields that depend on powered irrigation. Unless that was brought back online, and quickly enough to avoid damage to the crop, you'd see yields plummet toward historical levels, with population following suit shortly thereafter. Very unpleasant.

Hopefully there would be enough enough backup systems to restore function relatively quickly; but if not things would be unlikely to go well.

Re:We can't live without these things? (2)

jeffmeden (135043) | about 2 months ago | (#47530753)

Really? This would be devastating? We can't live without electricity, electronics, water pumps? It's amazing we're here today!

Yes, it very likely would. All those urban areas that grew as big and relatively healthy as they did, thanks to clean water and efficient sewage systems? If that wasn't brought back online, fast, they'd start moving toward their pre-sanitation population levels. The hard way.

Same would apply for agricultural areas and yields that depend on powered irrigation. Unless that was brought back online, and quickly enough to avoid damage to the crop, you'd see yields plummet toward historical levels, with population following suit shortly thereafter. Very unpleasant.

Hopefully there would be enough enough backup systems to restore function relatively quickly; but if not things would be unlikely to go well.

Generator-powered factories producing generators would suddenly be very very valuable.

The real question we should be asking is; why doesn't NASA have the authority to order a nationwide grid shutdown in the event that one of their several satellites dedicated strictly to predicting and identifying solar disruptions actually works and warns us before it happens? We have spent billions on this already, why not put that to use instead of fear mongering about how long it would take to manufacture a bunch of high voltage transformers?

Re:We can't live without these things? (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 2 months ago | (#47531123)

To be blunt, politicians. Everyone who agreed with the establishment and supported the ongoing maintenance of a solar storm readiness plan would get to be the bozo whose big scheme sat there wasting money, and only once in a while would any of them get to play hero.

Re: We can't live without these things? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47531311)

Because NASA isn't in charge of the energy sector? They monitor and advise. DOE via FERC is in charge of the electrical sector. The ES-ISAC, run by the FERC-appointed ERO, NERC, and the regional Reliability Coordinators (PeakRC in the western US, formerly the WECC RC).

More to the point, there are NERC standards being developed which deal with geomagnetic disturbances. A TPL and EOP standard: http://www.nerc.com/pa/Stand/Pages/Project-2013-03-Geomagnetic-Disturbance-Mitigation.aspx

The bigger issue is cost. We can prepare for anything, but at what cost? Are you ready for your electricity rates to double to cover a 12% chance in the next 10 years? It's a tough balanacing act.

Re:We can't live without these things? (3, Insightful)

sjames (1099) | about 2 months ago | (#47530717)

The problem is, we as a civilization are no longer set up to live without those things. Before air conditioning, windows in office buildings could be opened and there were fans everywhere. The fans are gone and the windows don't open now. People live in apartments way too far up to be practical if you have to take the stairs. Nearly nobody has a well and bucket anymore, so yes, we depend on water pumps. In theory, we could, given time, adapt to do without (+/- having centers of population too dense for that) but 24 hours really isn't enough notice.

Re:We can't live without these things? (1)

morgauxo (974071) | about 2 months ago | (#47531097)

Let's leave the "well and bucket" approach in the past please. I don't think having your water supply in an open-air hole is the most sanitary way to do it. All you really need is to push a point down into the water table and attach a hand pump. Just don't forget to always keep an extra jug of water on hand in case you need it to prime the pump.

Re:We can't live without these things? (1)

kencurry (471519) | about 2 months ago | (#47531239)

You hit on a hot topic for me. I live in San Diego, which has beautiful weather almost all the time, and yet nearly every building, restaurant, office etc. is sealed up tight with the AC on blast. Such a waste. C'mon architects and city planners of the future, we can do better!

There would have been one nice side effect (0)

smooth wombat (796938) | about 2 months ago | (#47530271)

ISPs such as Verizon and Comcast would have been forced to upgrade their equipment [slashdot.org] which means some of the bottlenecks that currently exist wouldn't exist afterwards (though let's be honest, they will find some other excuse to keep speeds slow).

And yes, this is a Broken Window-type fallacy though in this case, it wasn't deliberate.

Also, there would be a temporary boost in productivity and spending as all this equipment, in general, is replaced though whether that would offset the loss of productivity and people having nervous breakdowns because of their Pavlovian need to check their email and texts every ten seconds is debatable.

Re:There would have been one nice side effect (1)

RobinH (124750) | about 2 months ago | (#47530289)

You define productivity in a weird way if you think that walking into all the factories and breaking all the equipment makes all the people there more productive.

Re:There would have been one nice side effect (-1, Troll)

smooth wombat (796938) | about 2 months ago | (#47530309)

Thus the second part of my statement.

Reading comprehension is your friend.

Re:There would have been one nice side effect (1)

RobinH (124750) | about 2 months ago | (#47530331)

Which is why I don't understand how you could go on to making your 3rd comment after your 2nd comment calls it a fallacy.

Re:There would have been one nice side effect (1)

bistromath007 (1253428) | about 2 months ago | (#47530449)

The sad part is that it wasn't even a fallacy in the first paragraph. The ISPs aren't going to do dick with all that money unless forced by an act of either congress or god, so there's no opportunity cost.

Re:There would have been one nice side effect (1)

msauve (701917) | about 2 months ago | (#47530413)

Until you realize that the production facilities for that equipment was also damaged, and the facilities which made those machines, etc. There aren't a lot of steam engine driven factories producing electrical products.

Problem is, the world would pretty much need to bootstrap itself out of the mechanical age again.

Re:There would have been one nice side effect (1)

smooth wombat (796938) | about 2 months ago | (#47530573)

Maybe, maybe not. We know that companies, such as electrical suppliers, have extra equipment lying around for general maintenance and upgrade. Also, the people who manufacture these products have supplies on hand.

While it would be tedious, you would use this spare equipment to repair the most critical connections (from power plant to factories), thus enabling you to begin resupplying everyone else.

I'm not trying to minimize the nightmare scenario of getting things back up and running, only pointing out the path to get us there.

Re:There would have been one nice side effect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47530873)

"repair the most critical connections"

There's probably the first issue, who gets to prioritize, what are the priorities and what prevents abuse? I'm all for putting hospitals, water/sewer utilities & electrical manufacturing plants on the top of the list but I have a feeling that government buildings & politicians homes are going to be right up there as well when they should be towards the bottom of the list (past retailers, food producers, gas stations, etc).

Known this forever (3, Insightful)

koan (80826) | about 2 months ago | (#47530305)

And yet nothing changes, there is no hardening of infrastructure, no preparation or planning.

Re:Known this forever (2)

Ol Olsoc (1175323) | about 2 months ago | (#47530565)

And yet nothing changes, there is no hardening of infrastructure, no preparation or planning.

Most people just don't believe it's possible. Smart people can put two and two together, but most of us won't think a thing about it until their smartphones quit working and they can't access Facebook.

Even then, they'll likely assign it to something political like the Illuminati taking over, and disabling all the electronics so they can put everyone in FEMA concentration camps.

Goddamned liberals anyway! >sarcasm

Re:Known this forever (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47530737)

And yet nothing changes, there is no hardening of infrastructure, no preparation or planning.

Most people just don't believe it's possible. Smart people can put two and two together, but most of us won't think a thing about it until their smartphones quit working and they can't access Facebook.

Even then, they'll likely assign it to something political like the Illuminati taking over, and disabling all the electronics so they can put everyone in FEMA concentration camps.

Goddamned liberals anyway! >sarcasm

All joking aside, there would likely be far more violence and death than we would imagine within the first 72 hours of internet or social media blackout.

We've already heard stories of parents selling their kids to pay for their social media addictions. Without the distraction that so many have become horribly addicted to, I would expect a rather serious reaction that we're about as prepared for as any CME.

Known this forever (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47530675)

We could definitely do more, but there have been some changes to try to minimize the damage. The Space Weather Prediction Center tracks and predicts geomagnetic storms and warns power companies, satellite operators & air traffic systems about possible disruptions. I suppose the question would be if they did see a massive storm coming that could do damage would they A: Issue a pointed, timely warning and B: Would the appropriate parties take the necessary actions (shutting down the grid, locking down satellites, etc).

Re:Known this forever (1)

es330td (964170) | about 2 months ago | (#47531267)

While I can see a need for putting together and rehearsing a plan for "after" I would like to see the cost-benefit analysis on hardening the infrastructure. There are a lot of things we *could* do in life, like making planes more protected from missile damage we don't do because the likelihood of the event being protected against is so low relative to the aggregate cost to implement said solution. Are we prepared to build EMP shielding into every electronic device, thereby increasing the cost of life in general to protect against a very unlikely event? (Note I am not advocating one way or the other, simply asking the question.)

Fp Tr0Llkore (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47530335)

Are looking very but it's not a raise or lower the survey which 1. Therefore it's Philosophies must rival distribution, Confirming the Diseases. The

USA USA (5, Funny)

Cardoor (3488091) | about 2 months ago | (#47530347)

The sun is clearly a terrorist. I also hear it harbors vast quantities of cheap energy sources. time to INVADE!!! CHARGE!!!

Re:USA USA (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 2 months ago | (#47530885)

Can we get the politicians to lead the charge?

Re:USA USA (2)

Cardoor (3488091) | about 2 months ago | (#47530937)

sadly, as usual, though they would LIKE to lead from the front, they need to stay behind and manage from the rear. it's a tough job, but it beats real work.

It happened before (5, Informative)

Guspaz (556486) | about 2 months ago | (#47530353)

In the 80s, Quebec's power grid got taken out by solar storms. It was particularly susceptible because we have a ton of really long-distance runs:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

That one was just bad enough to flip circuit breakers on the grid, but it still caused a 9 hour power outage. Some satellites also lost control.

Re:It happened before (1)

PineHall (206441) | about 2 months ago | (#47530831)

The solar storm of 1859 [wikipedia.org] , also known as the Carrington Event, wrecked havoc telegraph systems. This solar storm would have been very nasty if it happened today with all our electronics. This storm 2 years ago would have been of similar size if it had hit earth.

And yet it happens every day (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47530371)

In Iraq, China, and Detroit, Michigan, USA.

Solution? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47530395)

Focus on building the technology to get us OFF this rock!

Conspiracy (1)

xdor (1218206) | about 2 months ago | (#47530479)

Desensitization. Plausible explanation for when they turn everything off on purpose.

Re:Conspiracy (1)

Cardoor (3488091) | about 2 months ago | (#47530509)

i love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy (ok, more) but i dont follow the logic on this one. Even assuming an attempt to say, depopulate via a 'the monsters are coming to maple street' type scenario, given that everything would be then thrown into such disarray - why would 'they' care about there being an explanation?

Re:Conspiracy (1)

xdor (1218206) | about 2 months ago | (#47530615)

To keep people calm and inactive and not blaming the government while they complete their police-state maneuvers.

Actually, its just been a stupid week, and crap articles like this having me blaming "the man" for everything that's wrong with the world.

Re:Conspiracy (2)

Sockatume (732728) | about 2 months ago | (#47530685)

Nothing calms people down like cutting off all their entertainment, food, and sanitation. ;) If I was going to take over a country I'd offer them all cheap energy, bountiful food, and as much entertainment as they could consume.

Some would say that this has already happened.

Re:Conspiracy (1)

xdor (1218206) | about 2 months ago | (#47530867)

Ah, yes.

The Welfare State.

Keeping people down by giving them enough to live comfortably whilst simultaneously destroying their self-respect and ambition.

Though that's not even a conspiracy...

Re:Conspiracy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47531153)

Yeah, because when there are no jobs, it's "lack of self-respect and ambition" which stops you having enough money from putting food in your mouth.

The brightest, healthiest members of society will always find a way. The remainder, without assistance, may starve - and often do. So take the throbbing cock of ideology out of your mouth and look both at history and at the consequences of competition for scarce resources, i.e. natural reality.

Re:Conspiracy (2)

Sockatume (732728) | about 2 months ago | (#47531221)

Quite the opposite; I was thinking of the contented Western middle class* - the scholarly class if you will - that's so settled into its world of aspirational brands, entertainment media and convenience that it has forgotten that its forefathers used to be politically and socially active.

Shit, people dependent upon the "welfare state" can't even change jobs without checking whether it clashes with the terms and conditions of their funding.

*I believe the American expression would be more like "upper middle class"

Law of the Land? (-1, Flamebait)

NEDHead (1651195) | about 2 months ago | (#47530523)

I thought the Republicans passed a law against such outbursts...

Re:Law of the Land? (1)

sgage (109086) | about 2 months ago | (#47530637)

That was only in North Carolina.

Re:Law of the Land? (1)

fredrated (639554) | about 2 months ago | (#47530775)

They did, so now they are going to sue the sun.

Evidence? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47530557)

There is no doubt that these geomagnetic storms can cause disruptions, but is there any evidence they can do widespread permanent damage? Just look at the 1989 storm that hit Canada, it was an X15 with no real warning but all it did was trip breakers & make lights flicker. Beyond a few random transformers, a temporary disruption of radio signals & maybe a satellite or two taken out most of the doom and gloom predictions regarding these storms have yet to come true. I suppose it could just be we just haven't seen a really big one since the proliferation of electricity, or it could be some are looking for grant/contractor dollars and aren't shy about "stretching" the truth to get them.

And I bet... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47530613)

I bet they'll chalk THIS one to man-made global warming too, just like the mysterious craters in Russia. http://news.slashdot.org/story... [slashdot.org]

Borrowed time (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 2 months ago | (#47530797)

> "According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion,"

Holy Jesus! That's a little bit more than half of what we borrowed those two years!

More power from the Sun meets the Tesla technology (1)

epwpixieqneg1 (3709433) | about 2 months ago | (#47530829)

the problem is not in the solar storms, as they have been happening for billions of years, and will happen for another billions after our "civili"zation is long gone. Note that on the statistical based our observational material for the power of these storms is absolutely insignificant. The problem is our technology, or more the way it has evolved since the beginning of 20th century. Tesla had gone in totally opposite direction, looking and evolving natural way of power distribution and efficient power usage and protection and was solely designing and working with HV systems. Every appliance can be designed to work with HV and high frequency, the natural way of energy distribution, but this was not how the rest of the engineering world looked at the problem, so they and the industry when in totally the other way. Under a such storm virtually all of the Tesla's inventions will just give more power for they were naturally designed to transform such power surges. So the educated reader can go and research, and at least try to build some of these appliances, and educate other people around him/her. The more they know about Tesla and his systems the more humans have chance to face/change the problems that procrastinate our contemporary "civili"zation and as a bonus not to worry about cosmic event of a such type.

I wish it had happened (2, Insightful)

tekrat (242117) | about 2 months ago | (#47530853)

Yes, for 6 months the world would have been thrown into chaos. Millions might have even died. But we would have emerged from it stronger and more united as a planet. Imagine just in the USA.

Would Ted Cruz have shut down the government to protest Obamacare after having lived through an event like that? Do you think the Republicans would be global warming deniers if they had gone through an event where the sun struck back at earth and nearly destroyed us?

Suddenly american politics wouldn't be about immigration and shouts of "benghazi" it would be about trying to put the pieces back together and rebuilding our infrastructure rather than spending trillions on a fighter plane that can't fly.

I wish the disaster had happened, because it would focus us on the things that are important, rather than stupid wedge issues meant to keep the serfs arguing with each other rather than realizing their masters are incompetent.

Re:I wish it had happened (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47531359)

So focusing politics on the things that are important would be worth a few million lives?

I think I'd rather let people go about their lives and turn off Fox News than condemn large sections of the global population to a messy death. I think you need to reset your outrage meter.

Advance warning (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47530893)

But we will have advanced warning!
Because photons have a known expectation of creating electro positron pairs, which are retarded by the suns gravity, we can detect the neutrinos in advance!
Just need to get the response time down to 10 millisecs and...
Oh, wait...

FUD alert (3, Informative)

argStyopa (232550) | about 2 months ago | (#47530895)

"Most people wouldn't even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps. "

Um, no.
First, the normal flush pressure comes from the water tank on the back...so EVERYONE would be able to flush at least once. (Actually, in a disaster, that tank isn't a bad source of freshwater, at least for a while.)

Most communities have water tanks above their population, either on a nearby height, or in water towers. This makes the system - at least in the short term, until that tank is drained - impervious to power outage. Even NYC has tens of thousands of rooftop tanks with the same function, but on a per-building level.
GRAVITY, not electricity, produces water pressure that refills that local toilet tank. So until the community tank is emptied, and electric pumps are required to fill that large tank, everyone would be able to flush just fine.

http://www.howstuffworks.com/w... [howstuffworks.com]

Another Y2K? (1)

Bart Smit (3391975) | about 2 months ago | (#47530897)

Planes will fall out of the sky and the apocalypse will be upon us once more. Better stock up on canned food now.

These scenarios are always full of maybe, possibility, chance, etc. without much actual risk analysis. Severe cold snaps regularly plunge large areas into darkness for days. People switch to candles and gas heaters instead of suddenly reverting to the middle ages. Most infrastructure generally fails quite regularly from poor design or maintenance, without any extra-terrestrial assistance.

I guess 'Solar wind may inconvenience a lot of people' doesn't sell as well as 'We're all doomed, head for the hills'

Space Weather Forecast (1)

superflippy (442879) | about 2 months ago | (#47531065)

Don't get caught unaware by the next major CME. Read the space weather forecast [noaa.gov] from NOAA.

Harden the grid (1)

Eravnrekaree (467752) | about 2 months ago | (#47531183)

Why don't we harden the electrical grid for this? What technologies could be used to protect electrical systems from this? Maybe this would involve a system to suppress the surge but also a system of disconnect switches that could be remotely activated to disconnect the electrical grid? What sorts of systems could be installed to prevent such a catastrophe? Could we install disconnect switches around transformers and such? What about unplugging your household appliances and electronics? Would that protect them from being hit? Its astonishing considering this is the greatest threat we havent taken more effort to install protective systems.

Re:Harden the grid (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 2 months ago | (#47531353)

shunting devices could be installed, and monitoring satellites specifically intended to give 30 to 45 minute lead time warning to grid operators to shut down

Remember Y2K? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47531199)

I remember a lot of the same FUD from Y2K and was almost caught up in it.

Let's take a look at the practical problem:

Q: "How do we shield from CME?"

A: We don't.

A lot of humanity lives above the surface and not only that, but our infrastructure is also mostly at the surface as well. If all the power lines were below the surface this wouldn't be quite an issue, but the supply lines would still be in trouble. If a CME hits Wall St. Dead on, that's it, consider the stock market toast.

The more likely scenario is 80% of the planet is hit with a CME, of which 10% is hit directly, and actually suffers the damage, everythign cascades away from that point. Remember what caused the Baby Booms? A whole lot of nothing better to do.

So in all likeliness a CME hits the middle of the pacific and all that suffers in Hawaii. Worst case scenario is that it hits NYC, London, Moscow, Shanghai or Tokyo and damages infrastructure enough that the economy grinds to a halt. As long as someone survives, we're good.

Footnote:
Why aren't we building data centers UNDER ROCK and isolating them? I have to wonder what will happen to the various "cloud" servers.

Objoke (2)

jratcliffe (208809) | about 2 months ago | (#47531245)

Bunch of astrophysicists walk into a bar. First one orders a gin and tonic, and gets it. Second one orders a red wine, and gets it. Third one orders a Mexican beer, at which point the bartender yells "all right, that's it, everybody out!" Another bar customer asks the first astrophysicist "what's going on?" He responds "Coronal mass ejection."

Capitalism means you never have to think ahead.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47531273)

Nothing will be done. Nothing. It profits nobody immediately.

Movie time! (2)

Dr. Tom (23206) | about 2 months ago | (#47531295)

I expect Morgan Freeman, Tom Hanks, Uma Thurman, and Cameron Diaz (with cameos by Dolly Parton and Emma Watson) to make a movie about this immediately. "The Corona"

A little darker thought... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47531373)

Apart from mechanical pumps who assure the survival of comatose patients, I can think of some other vital devices -- pacemakers, for instance.

How would they be affected? Is there a way to change them to make safer? (incredibly, an arrangement of magnets and an external winding device could be possibly safer in that atypical situation... though kinda steam-punk).

Off-topic, but beta is not working with Firefox on Linux here. All those graphical UTF chars around comments appear instead like rectangles with codes like "0xF112" inside. Chromium shows the correct characters.

I'm hoping for a massive blackout. (2)

MindPrison (864299) | about 2 months ago | (#47531445)

Ah, bet you're thinking - what an asshat, right?!

No, see - the thing about such natural disasters is that they tend to bring out the best in us, sometimes we need a crisis like that when we're too spoiled and too set in our ways to help fellow man (or nature) out, history shows that these disasters often bring out the better in us and replenish life and give jobs and hopes to those who have none.

It will also serve as a reminder that will be remembered for decades - how vulnerable we are, and that we should prepare and stop taking everyday life for granted.
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