A perfect storm of events created a massive magnetic cloud that could have caused fireworks on Earth. Earth dodged a huge magnetic bullet from the sun on July 23, 2012.
According to University of California, Berkeley, and Chinese researchers, a rapid succession of coronal mass ejections – the most intense eruptions on the sun – sent a pulse of magnetized plasma barreling into space and through Earth’s orbit. Had the eruption come nine days earlier, it would have hit Earth, potentially wreaking havoc with the electrical grid, disabling satellites and GPS, and disrupting our increasingly electronic lives.
The solar bursts would have enveloped Earth in magnetic fireworks matching the largest magnetic storm ever reported on Earth, the so-called Carrington event of 1859. The dominant mode of communication at that time, the telegraph system, was knocked out across the United States, literally shocking telegraph operators. Meanwhile, the Northern Lights lit up the night sky as far south as Hawaii.In a paper appearing today (Tuesday, March 18) in the journal Nature Communications, former UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow and research physicist Ying D. Liu, now a professor at China’s State Key Laboratory of Space Weather, UC Berkeley research physicist Janet G. Luhmann and their colleagues report their analysis of the magnetic storm, which was detected by NASA’s STEREO A spacecraft.”Had it hit Earth, it probably would have been like the big one in 1859, but the effect today, with our modern technologies, would have been tremendous,” said Luhmann, who is part of the STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Observatory) team and based at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory. Continue reading →
Most Americans take for granted the intricate systems that make it possible for us to engage in seemingly mundane day to day tasks like filling up our gas tanks, loading up our shopping carts at the local grocery store, obtaining necessary medications, and even pouring ourselves a clean glass of water. When we wake up each morning we just expect that all of these things will work today the same way they worked yesterday. Very few have considered the complexity involved in the underlying infrastructure that keeps goods, services and commerce in America flowing. Fewer still have ever spent the time to contemplate the fragility of these systems or the consequences on food, water, health care, the financial system, and the economy if they are interrupted. Continue reading →