The CME of July 23, 2012
CME of July 23, 2012

Did you know that we (the earth) barely missed global catastrophic disaster on July 23, 2012?

Seriously. Something happened that day which would have sent modern civilization into a tailspin.

It’s called a CME. But it wasn’t just any CME. It was extremely powerful, and was comparable to the Carrington Event of 1859 which caused worldwide damage to electric equipment – when all we had for “high tech” were telegraph systems.

What is a CME?

It’s called a coronal mass ejection. It comes from the sun. And it happens more often than most realize. Usually daily during peak solar cycles. Though a big one (including the Carrington Event) can occur during low periods of activity.

You might think of it as a belch from the sun. Once in awhile that ball of fire will hurl off a chunk of plasma and electromagnetic charged particles into space.

The sun rotates one revolution on its axis in about 25 days. If the ignition spot of the CME happens to be facing earth when it fires off, then we get a direct hit. (We missed the July 23rd (2012) event by 9 days.)

This is normally not a big problem. The earth is protected by it’s own “shield”, the magnetosphere. However the stronger the CME, the more problematic for earth’s “shield”. And disruptions begin to occur.

When a solar flare and associated CME event is observed, it may typically take a day or longer for the charged mass to arrive at earth (assuming its pointed at earth). The record was ~14 hours during one event in 1972.

It gets technical. But I want to keep it simple. A CME is a natural occurring event on the sun. They often follow solar flares. Coronal mass ejections release large quantities of matter and electromagnetic radiation into space.

Extraordinarily huge CME’s do happen. Though not often. With that said, the earth WILL be catastrophically affected when the next “huge” CME hits the planet.

What Will Happen When A HUGE CME Hits Earth?

The probable effects will be debilitating or even catastrophic to our modern way of life.

“An extreme space weather storm — a solar superstorm — is a low-probability, high-consequence event that poses severe threats to critical infrastructures of the modern society,”

“…with a potential recovery time of 4-10 years.”

former UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow and research physicist Ying D. Liu

I don’t know about you, but a recovery time taking “years” implies some pretty disastrous lead-up consequences. How many people do you think could survive a modern infrastructure meltdown for a month, never mind years…?

UC Berkeley research physicist Janet G. Luhmann and their colleagues reported their analysis of the magnetic storm, and determined that the huge outburst (of the July 23, 2012 CME) resulted in release energies equivalent to that of about a billion hydrogen bombs.

That just gives you an idea of the power…

So What Would Happen?

From NASA Science:

Extreme solar storms pose a threat to all forms of high-technology.

 They begin with an explosion–a “solar flare”—in the magnetic canopy of a sunspot.  X-rays and extreme UV radiation reach Earth at light speed, ionizing the upper layers of our atmosphere; side-effects of this “solar EMP” include radio blackouts and GPS navigation errors.

Minutes to hours later, the energetic particles arrive.  Moving only slightly slower than light itself, electrons and protons accelerated by the blast can electrify satellites and damage their electronics.

Then come the CMEs, billion-ton clouds of magnetized plasma that take a day or more to cross the Sun-Earth divide.

  Analysts believe that a direct hit by an extreme CME such as the one that missed Earth in July 2012 could cause widespread power blackouts, disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket.  Most people wouldn’t even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps. 

science.nasa.gov

Those of you who comprehend the possible effects of a EMP (electromagnetic pulse), the outcome of such a major CME will likely be similar or worse. A EMP event does its damage in nanoseconds. A CME event may go on for hours or even days.

Power Grid Down | Electrical Devices Damaged

Though both a man-made EMP (high altitude nuclear detonations) and sun-made CME will likely cause extreme damage to power grids and electrical devices… a CME will also cause one more additional catastrophic thing…

FIRE

3 things are needed to conduct electricity: a conductor (metal wire copper is best), a magnetic field (energy source, solar flare) and relative motion (the solar flare moving across the earth). Lots of things burning up all over the affected area, inside & out.

The pulsing and ongoing induced electrical currents in a lasting CME will likely set things on fire. It happened during the Carrington Event of 1859 while telegraph operators were electrocuted and telegraph buildings burned.

But this time, the fires will potentially be so much worse. When you have long wires (e.g. overhead electrical lines), there’s a higher potential for them to heat up via the effects of CME coupled with other factors.

When Will A Carrington-class CME Happen Again?

In February 2014, physicist Pete Riley of Predictive Science Inc. published a paper in Space Weather entitled “On the probability of occurrence of extreme space weather events.”  In it, he analyzed records of solar storms going back 50+ years. 

By extrapolating the frequency of ordinary storms to the extreme, he calculated the odds that a Carrington-class storm would hit Earth in the next ten years.

The answer: 12%.

The odds are basically 1 of 9 that it will happen in the next 10 years.

“Initially, I was quite surprised that the odds were so high, but the statistics appear to be correct,” says Riley.  “It is a sobering figure.”

How Do We Prepare For A Carrington-class CME?

It’s not too much different from contemplating preparedness for EMP / Grid-down and infrastructure damage for an extended period of time.

We’re looking at Level 3 & 4 preparedness.

As most regular MSB readers know, those who live in the cities are essentially doomed. Those who live in population-dense suburbs are in nearly as bad a predicament. Even those who live in the country will be in deep ‘doodoo’, unless of course they’ve prepared to enough an extent…

Read and search this blog for more tips about surviving catastrophic disaster. Begin with Level 1. Work your way up. It’s a process. And it could even become a lifestyle.

Continue reading: When Homes and Building Burn During The Next Solar SuperStorm

Solar SuperStorm 1859 – Carrington Event

Pitch Black – The Next Carrington Event