Not doomsday information, rather a look at how fragile our planet is in the universe

This is not doomsday information rather a look at how fragile our planet is in the universe the data is real what the odds are this will happen in 2013 that scientists are concerned about I don’t know no matter the threat man made or non man made the threats are real…The general consensus in the community of scientists and military who deal with EMP on a day to day basis, is that a solar or military EMP is not a question of if, it is only a question of when. NASA/NOAA published a report in 2009 predicting a significant increase in solar activity peaking in 2013. An EMP takes out electrical grids taking out major cities very dangerous for mankind,

This video is real footage of the sun using NASA’s technology

Dr Richard Fisher, the director of Nasa’s Heliophysics division, is very clear in the quotes, and our reporter, Andrew Hough, was very careful to check his facts with Dr Fisher before publishing. It sounds like a lot of serious people think that this is a real danger.

Apparently the concern is in 2013, the sun will reach a stage of its cycle when these large events are more likely. This might strike you as a bit strange, as you’ve probably heard (as have I) that the sun has been especially active for the last half-century or so and is expected to die down in the next couple of years — I spoke to Marcus Chown, the physicist and author of We Need to Talk about Kelvin, who said “Solar activity has been abnormally high for the past 50 years, but the extremely feeble start to the latest 11-year cycle suggests this activity is coming to an end and things are going to be quiet on the Sun for quite a few years.” Dr Ruth Bamford, a plasma physicist at the Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory, agrees: “The sun has been particularly quiet for the last few years in a protracted solar minimum. It has just woken up, as it were, and started its usual 11-year cycle a bit later than most.”

So what’s going on? Well, something similar has happened before. In 1859 a huge solar storm burned out telegraph wires across Europe and the United States. Dr Stuart Clark has written a book, The Sun Kings, about when that happened. He says that the “Carrington flare”, as it was known, “smothered two-thirds of the Earth’s skies in a blood-red aurora a night later, and crippled all of global navigation and global communication, such as it was at that time. Compasses spun uselessly and the telegraph network went down as phantom electricity surged through the wire.”

The sun had indeed been running at a record high for the latter half of the 20th century, and has now died down to its lowest level for a century. But Dr Clark warns that “average levels of solar activity has fallen does not mean that the Sun is immune from large flares or even giant ones. Low average levels of activity may even promote the giant flares.

“Perhaps like earthquakes, when there are constant flares/tremors the energy is dissipated evenly over long periods of time. But in periods of quiet, that energy can build up and then suddenly be released in a giant event. This remains speculation, however.”

2013 is when the next peak in the sun’s cycle of activity is expected, and while we cannot predict individual flares, Dr Clark says that the largest flares are often shortly after the peak.

Of course, if a proper “Carrington event” happens again, it has the potential to be far more problematic now than in 1859 when electric communication was barely in its infancy. Dr Clark says “There is absolutely no reason to believe that we are heading for solar armageddon in 2013, but sooner or later we should expect there to be another Carrington event and that is what these scientists [at NASA] are trying to prevent. Legislation in the US has just passed Congress to help harden the grid against solar flares.”

So — it’s a real thing, and we should be concerned. But preventive measures can be taken — satellites can be sent offline during big flares, power grids and communication networks can be shielded against electromagnetic radiation and so on. As Dr Bamford says: “The extreme events like the 1859 Carrington Event are 1-in-100-year probabilities, about the same probability as a storm of the level of Katrina hitting New Orleans — and New Orleans did not build their defences to withstand the extreme-magnitude. The Katrina catastrophy is small compared to getting hit with solar flares.


The Carrington event of 1859 – the largest solar flare ever recorded

The Carrington event of 1859 – the largest solar flare ever recorded

The Carrington Event
On the morning of September 1, 1859, amateur astrologer Richard Carrington ascended into the private observatory attached to his country estate outside of London. After cranking open the dome’s shutter to reveal the clear blue sky, he pointed his brass telescope toward the sun and began to sketch a cluster of enormous dark spots that freckled its surface. Suddenly, Carrington spotted what he described as “two patches of intensely bright and white light” erupting from the sunspots. Five minutes later the fireballs vanished, but within hours their impact would be felt across the globe.
That night, telegraph communications around the world began to fail; there were reports of sparks showering from telegraph machines, shocking operators and setting papers ablaze. All over the planet, colorful auroras illuminated the nighttime skies, glowing so brightly that birds began to chirp and laborers started their daily chores, believing the sun had begun rising. Some thought the end of the world was at hand, but Carrington’s naked eyes had spotted the true cause for the bizarre happenings: a massive solar flare with the energy of 10 billion atomic bombs. The flare spewed electrified gas and subatomic particles toward Earth, and the resulting geomagnetic storm—dubbed the “Carrington Event”—was the largest on record to have struck the planet.

Bright Flare, Dark Lines
Compared to today’s information superhighway, the telegraph system in 1859 may have been a mere dirt road, but the “Victorian Internet” was also a critical means of transmitting news, sending private messages and engaging in commerce. Telegraph operators in the United States had observed local interruptions due to thunderstorms and northern lights before, but they never experienced a global disturbance like the one-two punch they received in the waning days of summer in 1859.

Many telegraph lines across North America were rendered inoperable on the night of August 28 as the first of two successive solar storms struck. E.W. Culgan, a telegraph manager in Pittsburgh, reported that the resulting currents flowing through the wires were so powerful that platinum contacts were in danger of melting and “streams of fire” were pouring forth from the circuits. In Washington, D.C., telegraph operator Frederick W. Royce was severely shocked as his forehead grazed a ground wire. According to a witness, an arc of fire jumped from Royce’s head to the telegraphic equipment. Some telegraph stations that used chemicals to mark sheets reported that powerful surges caused telegraph paper to combust.

On the morning of September 2, the magnetic mayhem resulting from the second storm created even more chaos for telegraph operators. When American Telegraph Company employees arrived at their Boston office at 8 a.m., they discovered it was impossible to transmit or receive dispatches. The atmosphere was so charged, however, that operators made an incredible discovery: They could unplug their batteries and still transmit messages to Portland, Maine, at 30- to 90-second intervals using only the auroral current. Messages still couldn’t be sent as seamlessly as under normal conditions, but it was a useful workaround. By 10 a.m. the magnetic disturbance abated enough that stations reconnected their batteries, but transmissions were still affected for the rest of the morning.

Sky on Fire
When telegraphs did come back on line, many were filled with vivid accounts of the celestial light show that had been witnessed the night before. Newspapers from France to Australia featured glowing descriptions of brilliant auroras that had turned night into day. One eyewitness account from a woman on Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina ran in the Charleston Mercury: “The eastern sky appeared of a blood red color. It seemed brightest exactly in the east, as though the full moon, or rather the sun, were about to rise. It extended almost to the zenith. The whole island was illuminated. The sea reflected the phenomenon, and no one could look at it without thinking of the passage in the Bible which says, ‘the sea was turned to blood.’ The shells on the beach, reflecting light, resembled coals of fire.”

The sky was so crimson that many who saw it believed that neighboring locales were on fire. Americans in the South were particularly startled by the northern lights, which migrated so close to the equator that they were seen in Cuba and Jamaica. Elsewhere, however, there appeared to be genuine confusion. In Abbeville, South Carolina, masons awoke and began to lay bricks at their job site until they realized the hour and returned to bed. In Bealeton, Virginia, larks were stirred from their sleep at 1 a.m. and began to warble. (Unfortunately for them, a conductor on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad was also awake and shot three of them dead.) In cities across America, people stood in the streets and gazed up at the heavenly pyrotechnics. In Boston, some even caught up on their reading, taking advantage of the celestial fire to peruse the local newspapers.

Ice core samples have determined that the Carrington Event was twice as big as any other solar storm in the last 500 years. What would be the impact of a similar storm today? According to a 2008 report from the National Academy of Sciences, it could cause “extensive social and economic disruptions” due to its impact on power grids, satellite communications and GPS systems. The potential price tag? Between $1 trillion and $2 trillion.



Mysterious radiation event of 774 AD might be (a little) less mysterious

Coronal mass ejection from the Sun in April, 2012.

Everybody loves a good “whodunit?” How else could you explain the number of television shows with the prefix “CSI”? So when a study in Nature identified a previously unknown (and very large) spike in carbon-14 around the year 774 AD, it raised a lot of eyebrows. This radioactive isotope of carbon is created when energetic particles from beyond the Earth transform atmospheric nitrogen to a form of carbon with two neutrons more than the most common isotope.

Nobody could think of a historical account of unusual phenomena in the heavens that might have triggered a surge in 14C production, and something like this should have been hard to miss. So when a college student from UC-SD found a record of a “red crucifix” in the skies over Britain in that year, Nature published his note.

The original report, published by researchers from Nagoya University in Japan, involved analysis of Japanese cedars. Because the production of carbon-14 in the atmosphere varies over time, researchers often pursue records of that variability to increase the accuracy and precision of radiometric carbon dating. Tree rings provide one of those records.

When the researchers sifted through their data, they discovered the unusually high amount of carbon-14 in rings from 774 and 775 AD, and did some thinking about what could potentially have caused it. There were a couple of possibilities to consider. One was a solar flare, which can launch charged particles into Earth’s atmosphere that generate carbon-14. Another was a nearby supernova, which releases large amounts of gamma radiation.

No increase in carbon-14 has been found to coincide with documented supernovae in 1006 or 1054 AD, so in order to explain the spike in 774 AD, a supernova would have to be either many times larger or much closer than those. But such an event would have been impossible to ignore—the “guest star” that appeared in 1006 was brighter than Venus— and no record of it was known.

So what about a large solar flare? They put that down as unlikely, too, as their calculations showed it would take a flare at least a thousand times larger than anything we knew about to do the job. Again, the effects would have been remarkable, with otherworldly aurorae and a deadly thrashing of the ozone layer.

So the source of the radioactive carbon was a mystery, but one that was cleared up last week. It turns out they did the math wrong. A pair of researchers from Washburn University and the University of Kansas published a comment in Nature pointing out that the solar flare calculations included a rather fundamental error. Working backwards from the intensity required to produce the right amount of carbon-14 in Earth’s atmosphere, they mistakenly calculated the total size of the event as if the flare was emitted in all directions from the Sun, forming an expanding bubble of charged particles. In reality, solar flares erupt in directional jets, as can be seen in this NASA video.

Obviously, that brings down the required size of the event considerably. Still, it leaves it some 20 times larger than the 1859 Carrington Event—the largest solar flare recorded from the Sun. Events that large have been observed on other stars, so it’s possible our Sun is capable of it, as well.

While the lack of a historical record for an event like that is still conspicuous, the revised calculation also reduces the impact it would have on the ozone layer. The Japanese group believed it would be large enough to cause a mass extinction event, but the Kansas researchers disagree. “The results are consistent with moderate biological effects: reduction of primary photosynthesis in the oceans and increased risk of erythaema and skin cancer, but no major mass-extinction level effects as implied earlier,” they wrote.

A bit of self-correction

This is the self-correcting nature of science at work. Not everything gets caught by peer review, and mistakes get published. That’s not as big of a problem as it could be because scientists are, as a rule, a distrustful lot. Unlike lesser mortals, their eyes don’t glaze over when they reach the methods section of a paper. (Okay, sometimes they do.) When the Kansas researchers found a number that didn’t seem to make sense, they sat down and worked it out.

Sometimes, this kind of scrutiny results in the critic realizing that the, while surprising, a result was apparently correct. From there, they might devise a way to investigate or test it in another context. In other instances, like this one, an error is discovered and corrected so everyone can get on with the business of figuring stuff out.

As for whatever appears to have occurred in 774, all options are back on the table. If there was a significant event, and it was caused by a massive solar flare, it would behoove us to learn all we can about it. While the effects back in 774 could have been a bit unpleasant, folks then didn’t rely on digital infrastructure and a global communication network, so it wouldn’t have been as disruptive.

Nature, 2012. DOI: 10.1038/nature11695, 10.1038/nature11123  (About DOIs).