The world better keep an eye on space weather

A monster geomagnetic solar storm could plunge our tech-driven economy into chaos -- maybe.

By Jason Notte Jun 13, 2013 4:17PM
File photo of solar activity on Friday October 24, 2003 during a geomagnetic storm spawned by a giant eruption of gas (© NASA/AP Photo)What could really knock the global economy for a loop?

A deepening recession in Europe, continued unrest in Turkey and civil war in Syria, our own wobbly economy here in the U.S., Japan's tanking stock market, federal agencies that think we're all terrorists, large companies willing to give all of our information to said agencies, forest fire season, tornado season, hurricane season ...


That's just the heavily abridged version of our calamity and worry list.


Now, the folks at Quartz -- the same people who told us we've reached "peak meat" -- insist the global economy has reason to fear the weather in space. Niraj Choksi explains:


"Imagine waking up just after midnight to a sky so bright you swear it must be early morning. Imagine seeing the Northern Lights as far south as Cuba or Hawaii. Imagine that the same phenomena behind both has also generated electric fields in the ground strong enough to power small electronics"


Sakes alive, Roland Emmerich, that sounds like "Independence Day," "The Day After Tomorrow" and "2012" all rolled into one.


But the hypothetical threat is all too real, Choksi assures us. It happened in 1859, when Earth was hit with a geomagnetic storm known as the Carrington Event. The storm was strong enough to disable telegraph networks for a while. And it could happen again, with dire consequences for our electrical and electronic infrastructure.


In fairness to Choksi, he was just relaying what NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, albeit less dramatically, at a space-weather conference the space agency hosted last week. Bolden acknowledged that such a storm would throw the globe's magnetic fields out of whack and overwhelm power grids worldwide, plummeting the global economy into chaos.


Insurance giant Lloyd's of London has predicted dire consequences from such a storm in our tech-heavy world today. It warned that a massive space storm could cause a huge grid shutdown that could take "many hours" to fix.


And that's where the big-budget horror story's plot takes a bit of a hit. The last time such a storm occurred, in March 1989, it did take down northeastern Canada's Hydro-Quebec grid, which in some areas, took up to nine hours to fix. It also permanently damaged a $12 million transformer in New Jersey.


But the republics stood, the grids were repaired, and the sun's hiccup ultimately did less damage than recent hurricanes. Even so, Quartz reported that Metatech notes that, cell phones today would experience interference, navigation systems would cease to function and essential services would suffer. It predicts that a storm on par with the 1859 storm would cause damage 10 to 20 times costlier than the $80 billion to $125 billion wrought by Hurricane Katrina, and recovery would require a decade.


Great, so we'll just add this to the expanding list of items keeping every human being alive in a state of hypervigilance and permanent stress. Who knows? Maybe unplugging a bit would make a bunch of those worries go away.


More on moneyNOW


7Comments
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Scientifically the Earth is said to be 4.54 Billion years old plus or minus 1%.   Just 11,000 years ago, which is only 0.00024% of the age of the Earth, the Northern Hemisphere was covered in 2 MILES of ice sheets.  It has stripped the Northern states like Upper Michigan and Northern Wisconsin down to the Basalt and Granite bed rock.

 

Since then mankind has gone to the moon and come back and has robots on Mars today exploring for past life there.   We have seen the center of the Universe.  We have heard what is left of the sound of the big bang.

 

Seven Thousand years ago, Sanskrit writing tells of past fights in the sky using planes and atomic weapons. There is nothing new under the Sun.

 

Does anyone really think that we (humans) are so grand that nature couldn't take us out in a blink of an eye?   So why should we be worrying about solar flares taking out our way of life?  Maybe it had already done so 22,000 years ago with the beginning of the past ice age covering the Earth. 

 

Remember, it could happen tonight while you sleep.  

 

 

Jun 14, 2013 11:17AM
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There is always something new under the Sun. Just because some ancient race did something and it's lost to us, maybe forever, doesn't mean new innovations haven't come to life. Even if Quantum/String Theory claims an infinite amount of new things at any given moment we can't prove any of that. There is no Real Science that proves the Age of the Earth. It could be 4 billions years old or it could be 4 Trillion Years old.

It's scary that some folks in Science seem shocked that other planets around other stars exist. That life might exist outside some folks limited means of thinking about life. We know just about nothing but act as if we have it all figured out. We have barely scratched the surface.

Jun 14, 2013 4:02PM
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I don't discount threat of a major solar storm affecting Earth. Keep in Mind that yet another possible comet of the Century is possible towards the End of the Year. ISON. However if anyone has historically followed Science, it always takes far too long to change accepted standards. Sometimes that's for the good and yet many times it has just the opposite effect. Far too many scientist are locked into theories that are no longer relevant. I know that for decades now, most scientist have accepted this notion about Radioactive decay to determine the Age of many things. Fact is, you can't jump into any time-machine and prove that you are right. There are far too many variables that scientist ignore in making such bold assumptions. When relying on radioactive decay as some indisputable fact, science suffers. History has shown us time again how science can be wrong going back to the very start. We aren't so smart now that today is much different.

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You can't fool (with) Mother Nature.
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