Scientists forewarn of $2 trillion “Katrina” from solar flares
– February 22, 2011Posted in: Featured, Technology
Last week, the sun emitted the largest solar flare in four years, and scientists have warned that Earth should ready itself for a concentrated electromagnetic storm which, at worst, could be the worldwide equivalent of Hurricane Katrina and cost $2 trillion.
Additional preparedness for what is also referred to as space weather was strongly urged at the yearly conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington. Sir John Beddington, Britain’s chief scientist, said the issue had to be taken seriously, as the sun was emerging from a dormant period and vulnerability had increased. Jane Lubchenco, head of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration concurred: “Predict and prepare should be the watchwords. So much more of our technology is vulnerable than it was ten years ago.”
A solar storm begins with the eruption of incredibly hot gas out of the sun at speed of as much as five million miles per hour. Electrically charged particles impact Earth’s atmosphere between twenty and thirty hours later, resulting in electromagnetic upset.
The solar storm of last week caused some radio problems and mild disruption to civil aviation because flights were routed away from polar regions. A more severe storm can disable communications satellites for a number of hours, possibly permanently damaging them. On the Earth’s surface, profound magnetic fluctuation can cause power surges, leading to grid failure such as that which blacked-out all of Quebec in 1989.
The most extreme solar storm ever took place in 1859 and ruined a vast extent of the planet’s recently-installed telegraph network. A storm of that magnitude today could wreak havoc with electricity distribution, communications and information systems, and cost $2 trillion to repair.
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Tags: electric storm, electromagnet storm, Electromagnetic pulse, electromagnetic waves, EMP, solar flares, solar storm, solar storms, sun
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Sunil is our staff technology writer. Specializing in information technology in college, he brings an in-depth to technical issues, but is able to explain them