“The earth is in peril, and people love that,” said Benjamin Radford, deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine. “There is this certain human fascination with disaster. This one’s a little eccentric. … But given a world so interconnected and dependent on technology, with all our cellphones and computers, there’s some legitimate scientific concern about this.”
There are multiple dangers to a solar storm. A massive eruption of material from the sun, known as a coronal mass ejection, can release roughly a billion hydrogen bombs’ worth of energy. This sends a magnetic cloud of material at extremely high speeds barreling into space. And if this cloud slams into Earth’s magnetic field, the resulting mash-up can cause a geomagnetic storm that can disrupt satellites and power grids. Such solar eruptions can also hurl out a super-fast blast of energetic protons traveling near the speed of light that can disrupt radio communications, including those made by airline pilots.
On July 22, 2012, NASA’s STEREO-A spacecraft spotted what looked like an enormous solar eruption sending out a coronal mass ejection at blazing top speeds of roughly 1,800 miles per second — the fastest ever recorded by the spacecraft. By the time it actually passed STEREO-A a mere 17 hours later, the magnetic cloud was still traveling at 750 miles per second. That’s about three times faster than your typical coronal mass ejection.
This above-average event was the result of a perfect storm in outer space, according to an international team of researchers, led by Ying Liu of China’s National Space Science Center. There was actually not one, but two coronal mass ejections that erupted from the same region of the sun within 10 to 15 minutes of one another that tangled close to the sun and then barreled into space. And while most storms tend to slow down pretty quickly, this one didn’t, because an earlier coronal mass ejection four days before had blazed a path through space and cleared out any obstacles that would have slowed it down.
At the time, STEREO-A was sitting about 89 million miles away from the sun — roughly the same distance as the Earth, which is about 93 million miles away. Luckily, the storm was pointed away from Earth, in the direction of STEREO-A.
“Had the event hit the Earth, it would have produced a record geomagnetic storm,” the study authors wrote.
Odds of an electronics Armageddon anytime soon are far from clear. Because solar storms occur regularly, with magnetic loops flaring and twisting around sunspots, government weather scientists say it’s inevitable that Earth will, on rare occasion, get bonked by what they call a “coronal mass ejection,” or CME. A cloud of solar plasma, depending on the magnetic makeup of its electrons, could penetrate and shake the planet’s magnetic field, if the sun’s aim is just so.
The above is an excerpt from the article “Solar Peril: Could a giant sunburst unplug the Earth?” you might want to take a look at. Watch the video too! If a once in a lifetime event did occur, what can you do now to prepare yourself – something that you know is going to work?