And along comes a solar flare . . .

Merrily, merrily, merrily . . .

We take so much for granted these days, such as there will always be food on supermarket shelves, we’ll always be able to access our bank accounts and use our credit cards, hydro electricity will keep our lives humming along despite a few short outages now and then . . . and so on and so on.

But what if there was a catastrophic solar flare that knocked out our energy grids for months? Apparently, that is a scenario the United States is looking at and preparing for, according to reports today.

The Daily Mail says such a solar flare could end civilization as we know it.

We Earthlings would have less than an hour’s notice, apparently, if such a calamity were to occur.

Of course, it’s not like the solar flare itself would wipe out life on the planet or anything. It would simply wipe out the electrical and digital house of cards we rely on and take for granted. If it happened in the dead of winter, no doubt some people might actually freeze to death in homes without sources of heat. Store shelves might soon be emptied by looters and, well, you get the picture. Society as we know it might break down.

All because of a solar flare.

Which serves as a reminder that we humans are very fragile and, as a whole, are not very self-sufficient.

The fact that the White House is actually making contingency plans should alert everyone to the possibility . . . but I’m not sure what most people can do about it other than stock up on canned and dry goods and perhaps have some sort of alternative stove to cook on, if only a fondue set — which can heat up a meal and boil water for coffee.

One hopes that banks and such keep hard-copy records of everything, and that a world without the Internet wouldn’t interfere too much with commerce.

— Jillian

12 thoughts on “And along comes a solar flare . . .

  1. This is why Mormons, Mennonites, etc have stores of food to last 1 year. Banks do have hard-copy and redundant off-line storage. Looting?!? Well that’s another story. Very interesting that in the most advanced nation on the planet, Japan there is no none of this behaviour and no murder(<0.01). Go figure %O

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  2. You sure do worry a lot, don’t you?

    What you are describing is a Coronal mass ejection. And the scenario you describe has only hit the earth in modern history a few times. Rarely with long-term effects. But, wow the Aurora light show.

    A coronal mass ejection can make the 93-million-mile journey to Earth in just three to four days, but observatories can see it in just hours. NASA has several satellites watching the sun. Soho (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) and IRIS (Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph) would provide days of warning if a catastrophic solar flare or CME were headed our way. Power grids will localize their resources in advance of a CME. Normally every power generating system is connected to every other system so that if one area needs more power than it can provide, it takes from the others. When isolated a failure of one system won’t affect the others. Satellites are hardened from radiation because they get hit with CMEs all the time.

    If you want something to worry about it would be a gamma ray burst. One of those pointed at the earth from up to 10,000 light years away could vaporize all life on the planet in seconds. But those only happen every 400 million years or so. No one will see it coming, so don’t worry about a GRB either.

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      1. According to NASA, the closest GRB known to date is still over a hundred million light-years away, and most of them come from billions of light years. To outshine our own Galaxy’s closest stars in our sky from distances that are literally billions of times further away, stupendous amounts of energy are required.

        A GRB is a focused beam of energy from a collapsing super-size star. It’s afterglow is what we observe as a SuperNova. The GRB beam is emitted from the poles of the rapidly spinning star at the time of the collapse which can last just a few minutes or a few hours. GRB’s are somewhat rare and because their energy is focused hitting the Earth would be like hitting a grain of sand with a laser pointer on the Moon.

        An asteroid or comet strike is the most likely ELE that the planet will see in the next million years. Or the super-volcano under Yosemite could erupt again – sometime in the next 100,000 years.

        Of course, there is the daily bombardment of space junk falling out of orbit. almost all of it burns up from atmospheric friction but a few chunks make it to the surface. Usually in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific Ocean. Strangely, I’ve never read of space junk falling into the Atlantic. Northern Canada and Siberia get a few pieces every few years. [Ironic aside- one of the more dangerous pieces of space junk contained a plutonium power generator launched from Russia in the 1990’s. It crashed into the Siberian Tundra about ten years later. no plutonium escaped.]

        In fact, one piece of space junk is due to hit the planet on Friday the 13th. Next week. Most of WT1190F will burn up in the atmosphere, and what’s left will plunk into the Indian Ocean [about 100 km off the southern coast of Sri Lanka]. Scientists at NASA think it is either a third-stage booster or a fuel tank from an Apollo flight.

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  3. Of greater concern is that our entire electrical grid is hooked up to the world wide internet grid. We know that the Russians and Chinese are already inside our grid and can take it down at will. (Were probably in theirs as well)
    So far they have not because their economy is interconnected with ours so it would harm them as well.
    The question is how long will it take for our enemies such as Iran or ISIS to hack into our grid. It could potentially take down the electrical grid for months.
    Six months supply of freeze dried food for a family of four is now stocked at our local warehouse store. Some families are proactive, maybe for good reason.

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    1. Wow, this is amazing. Amazing that we have so many Chicken Littles who get all their information from Fox Spews.

      From Business Insider:
      ” No, hackers can’t take down the entire, or even a widespread portion of the US electric grid. From a logistical standpoint, this would be far too difficult to realistically pull off – and it’s not what we should be devoting our attention to. What is more realistic is for a cyber attack to cripple an individual utility, causing a blackout or disruption of service at the local level.”

      The notion that a hacker could basically turn off the country’s power with the ‘flip of a switch,’ is more science fiction than reality.

      Here’s why:

      The US energy grid is owned and operated by hundreds of various regional utilities that all use different hardware and software. That means hackers would have to tunnel into hundreds of diverse networks, which would take several years, and then write custom exploits which are unique for each specific environment they’re targeting. For those who would argue that China or Russia have the money, time and capability to do that, try to understand that developing a functional exploit, getting it placed on the exact part of the network that it needs to be on in order to have the desired effect, then keeping it hidden on that network over a period of months or years while security teams routinely hunt for exploits, and doing all of this at the same time on hundreds of networks is extremely difficult. To put it in perspective, it would be like trying to rob a hundred different banks at the exact same time.

      However, even if a hacker group was able to pull this off, there interconnects at various points that were specifically designed to prevent widespread outages.

      So, put on your tin-foil hats and imagine the next great threat. Or watch and read responsible, fact-based news.

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      1. Actually, except for a few, power plants, all are connected. Entire countries can be shut down.
        The several countries in this world that have thermonuclear bombs could could shut entire countries down as well.
        The following blurb is an example of a book on the subject.

        “Investigative reporting that reads like fiction – or maybe I just wish it was fiction. In Lights Out, Ted Koppel flashes his journalism chops to introduce us to a frightening scenario, where hackers have tapped into and destroyed the United States power grids, leaving Americans crippled. Koppel outlines the many ways our government and response teams are far from prepared for an un-natural disaster that won’t just last days or weeks – but months – and also shows us how a growing number of individuals have taken it upon themselves to prepare”.

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      2. So, who ‘ya gonn’a believe? Software engineers who write control code for a living or a retired news anchor quoting unnamed “experts” selling a book?

        Seriously, if you believe Ted Koppel’s doomsday fantasy then I have some concentrated water for your supply bunker.

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      3. I appreciate the fact you live in your secure world where guns are eschewed and world wide calamities are chicken little absurdities.
        As I advance in age I too hope to reach that state of peace of mind because I know it will most likely not effect me personally.

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  4. What makes you think we have to wait for calamities from outer space or cyber-vandals? You think we can’t manufacture these disruptions for ourselves? Here in the UK in the past couple of years we’ve had several instances of banks going offline for a day or so thanks to software glitches (do you know how many payments don’t happen if the bank’s out for 24 hours? Don’t go there!). Ever had your credit card declined in the restaurant (after the meal!) because the bank processing isn’t available?

    Then there have been the mobile phone services that vanished due to software problems.

    Then there was time the London underground system failed because of a power outage. The outage was short-lived, but the trains couldn’t run for almost a day because so many people got off and were walking the tracks. Why didn’t the backup power cut in? Because a few years earlier the bean counters scrapped the backup generators as an unnecessary expense because the power grid never went down …

    Our western society has made itself far too fragile and vulnerable thanks to the computer.

    peter

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