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A (potentially) not so sunny day
February 29, 2012 11:48 AM   Subscribe

Earth Faces 12% Chance of "Catastrophic Solar Megastorm" by 2020 The last gigantic solar storm, known as the Carrington Event, occurred more than 150 years ago and was the most powerful such event in recorded history.

According to a recent paper, the earth faces a 12% chance of experiencing another Carrington-scale event within the next decade.

Auroras may be beautiful, but the charged particles can wreak havoc on electrical systems. At the time of the Carrington Event, telegraph stations caught on fire, their networks experienced major outages and magnetic observatories recorded disturbances in the Earth’s field that were literally off the scale.
In today’s electrically dependent modern world, a similar scale solar storm could have catastrophic consequences. Auroras damage electrical power grids and may contribute to the erosion of oil and gas pipelines. They can disrupt GPS satellites and disturb or even completely black out radio communication on Earth.

During a geomagnetic storm in 1989, for instance, Canada’s Hydro-Quebec power grid collapsed within 90 seconds, leaving millions without power for up to nine hours.

The potential collateral damage in the U.S. of a Carrington-type solar storm might be between $1 trillion and $2 trillion in the first year alone, with full recovery taking an estimated four to 10 years, according to a 2008 report from the National Research Council.
posted by modernnomad (75 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
The winds of shit are in the air.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:50 AM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


“A longer-term outage would likely include, for example, disruption of the transportation, communication, banking, and finance systems, and government services; the breakdown of the distribution of potable water owing to pump failure; and the loss of perishable foods and medications because of lack of refrigeration,” the power going out."
posted by nathancaswell at 11:58 AM on February 29, 2012 [10 favorites]


On the plus side, Jersey Shore cast members will be able to tan in seconds flat.
posted by maxwelton at 11:59 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


max, hate to tell you, but there's a huge difference between 'tan' and 'roast'...
posted by mephron at 12:02 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sure that, by the time this thing hits, our global economy will be more than able to absorb the costs of recovery. ::takes cyanide::
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 12:06 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was just talking about that today. All the power systems are so interconnected now, we'd be toast. And of course there's no redundancy for "efficiency" reasons.
posted by DU at 12:07 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like those odds. Tell me when we get to a > 50% chance.
posted by dibblda at 12:14 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd be ok watching them roast.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:19 PM on February 29, 2012


Woah, this is like the plot of Brightness Falls From the Air I only hope this comes with all the kinky sex from the book.
posted by latkes at 12:19 PM on February 29, 2012


I love living in the pre-postapocalypse.
posted by Tesseractive at 12:21 PM on February 29, 2012 [17 favorites]


All the power systems are so interconnected now, we'd be toast

/makes mental note; create solar array sufficient for my own power, WITHOUT a feedback connection to the net for the surplus. And a big red "Shutdown" button for when the storm starts.
posted by DreamerFi at 12:21 PM on February 29, 2012


YAY, the Y2K shelter and provisions will be put to use!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:23 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


meh... first-world problem
posted by fredludd at 12:24 PM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


I was just begging my husband to purchase me a missile silo for us to live in. And he thought i was crazy!
posted by Sweetmag at 12:25 PM on February 29, 2012


Bye bye Metafilter.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:27 PM on February 29, 2012


max, hate to tell you, but there's a huge difference between 'tan' and 'roast'...

I can tell you're not too familiar with the cast of Jersey Shore.
posted by hydrophonic at 12:30 PM on February 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


I like those odds.

I don't! Part of my job involves making "system safety" assessments - how likely will something go wrong and how badly fucked are you if it does. 12% puts you firmly into the "Frequent" category of likelihood (that would be greater than 10% chance) and the potential damages count as "Catastrophic". This is on a scale that, ideally, all the risks fall into the one-in-a-million bucket. An event like this is firmly in the "you're fucked" quadrant of the chart.

Something that causes widespread power disruption like this isn't just inconvenient, it's dangerous and life-threatening. If I told you there was a 12% chance of you losing power some time next year, you might think the worst that happens is you can't watch Netflix for a few hours. What if you were old or infirm and I told you there's a 12% chance of you dying next year because you live in Phoenix and your air conditioning won't work for several days? Or a 12% chance that you're in an airplane that's suddenly unable to talk to air traffic control or turn on the runway lights at your destination? Even simpler, a 12% chance that all the traffic lights in your city shut off.

It's easy to dismiss things like this because we've all dealt with power outages and most times they're inconvenient at worst. Think about what electricity does for you and your community, though. A sustained power outage means no heat, no air conditioning, no traffic control, no gasoline (all those pumps don't run on fairy dust!), no or limited telecom services, limited emergency response and hospital services, no credit card processing, no refrigeration (hope you don't have sensitive medicines you need to store!).

Will society pull through? Of course. Will it cause an increased number of completely avoidable deaths? Absolutely. Not to mention the potential economic damage occurring right at the cusp of a recovery. I would not take these odds on a gamble, no.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:36 PM on February 29, 2012 [24 favorites]


meh... first-world problem

There actually are electrical grids in many parts of the developing world and they're generally in (probably generally) worse condition than ours, which might make them more prone to, I don't know, starting massive fires that would be almost impossible to put out in the absence of proper fire departments AND a complete electronic communications blackout. What's more, gasoline generators are widely used in such places as well, and I suspect a sudden, massive current induced to such systems which are proximate to a highly combustible liquid might cause problems as well.

Also, lots of people in the developing world actually do use cell phones and modern communications technology for all kinds of things, directly and indirectly. I think this solar megastorm would be a huge disaster for the whole planet, not just the perennially tiresome bourgeoisie.
posted by clockzero at 12:38 PM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


As in most cases, I imagine that the suspension of basic infrastructure services will disproportionately affect 2nd and 3rd world countries more than 1st world. The 1st world has better grids, backup systems, and alternative options.
posted by lazaruslong at 12:40 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


May you live in interesting times.
posted by LordSludge at 12:40 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


would this be the kind of magnetic storm that erases all the hard drives on the planet? Because if so, I can hear the chortling of hipsters with their vinyl collections.
posted by Jon_Evil at 12:40 PM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure which is worse, a solar shit storm, or sitting through the awful Until the End of the World
posted by KokuRyu at 12:43 PM on February 29, 2012


meh... first-world problem
really? really
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:52 PM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


would this be the kind of magnetic storm that erases all the hard drives on the planet? Because if so, I can hear the chortling of hipsters with their vinyl collections.

Not so much erase as cause them to come to a screeching halt, either by burning out control mechanisms, and/or read/mechanisms. Not sure what would happen to solid state drives, but it might not matter if the computers or hard drive enclosures they're in are fried. And maybe people won't care as much when their workplaces or homes have long term blackouts or brownouts.
posted by ZeusHumms at 1:03 PM on February 29, 2012


Cue Roland Emmerich movie in 5...4...3.....
posted by dellsolace at 1:04 PM on February 29, 2012


So, I think the Sun has made it quite clear that it doesn't want to be our friend.

We know what we need to do.
posted by Drexen at 1:04 PM on February 29, 2012 [11 favorites]


I was visiting downtown Ottawa during the last East Coast blackout.

Here is what happens to Canadians when the power goes out in the summer:

You only have to small amount of cash in your pocket. Your debit card is useless. You are now just about broke.

There is nowhere to spend the money because the cash registers don't work and all the shops and restaurants close.

All the hotdog vendors run out buns almost instantly.

It gets dark.

Buses still run and people work around the lack of traffic lights pretty well.

Everybody sits outside and barbecues all the meat that was in their freezers.

Nobody knows why the power is out. Not even the police.
posted by srboisvert at 1:10 PM on February 29, 2012 [9 favorites]


Residents of 3rd world countries are used to getting along with no power.
posted by goethean at 1:10 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I suspect a sudden, massive current induced to such systems which are proximate to a highly combustible liquid might cause problems as well.

Please, it's not like any gas engine has ever had a shorted wire run directly into the gas tank just to wait for its moment. That is not a problem that happens to anything that Michael Bay isn't directing.

I mean, we've done this already, haven't we? It was called the Northeast Blackout of 2003, and our systems (gas generators, phone networks, UPS systems, and most importantly our social networks) are robust enough to take it.

If the power goes out, keep your fridge closed, stopper a bathtub and fill it with water. Have smart friends.
posted by mhoye at 1:14 PM on February 29, 2012


Take it from me, folks: you want to become proficient with a crossbow and/or atlatl well before the cannibalistic rape gangs show up.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:23 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I mean, we've done this already, haven't we? It was called the Northeast Blackout of 2003, and our systems (gas generators, phone networks, UPS systems, and most importantly our social networks) are robust enough to take it.

Our systems are robust enough to take a regionwide blackout with a single point of failure, which is what the Northeast Blackout was. They're not robust enough to take a blackout over a very large region with multiple points of failure, which is the implication I got from reading the original post. A very strong solar storm disrupts satellite communications and GPS.
posted by ZeusHumms at 1:26 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Take it from me, folks: you want to become proficient with a crossbow and/or atlatl well before the cannibalistic rape gangs show up.

Or flare gun.
posted by goethean at 1:35 PM on February 29, 2012


"Since the beginning of time, mankind has yearned to destroy the sun." - C. Montgomery Burns
posted by General Tonic at 1:40 PM on February 29, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'm not some fancy sun scientist and I think the threat of Carrington event is real and could really fuck us up, but this falls into the same types of probabilities used in weather or "acts of god". p=.12 there will be a cat 5 hurricane hitting a the US in the next decade. The models can't say that when it will occur but the models show this type of event happening. Should we evacuate Houston, New Orleans and Miami now, just in case? Of course not.

There's a 46% probability a 7.5 earthquake will happen in California in the next 30 years. There's a 94% probability we'll get a 7.0. If that hits the right place it could be catastrophic. But I don't think we need to evacuate just yet. We just need to be ready.

The solar events are like weather events but there's a lot of variable in play that make things like a 12% chance of a Carrington event in the next decade more of a scary headline than useful information. Like rare superstorms on earth, a major solar storm could fuck us up tomorrow or next week, or during the Super Bowl, or whatever. Yes, there will be a storm and this guy's model thinks there's a 12% chance it might happen within the next decade. But it could turn out a be something less. Or nothing. Or something 100x worse than the Carriginton event. We're certain that the sun will rise tomorrow in the east, but not a lot more. From what I can tell of the 1859 solar storm most of the articles said it was a super-sized aurora borealis and didn't mention that it was a solar storm. I can't tell if people in 1859 knew why aurora happened in the first place. But today we have a lot more science to help us understand these solar storms. But if anything we know the sun itself and things like solar storms are not anywhere close to an exact science.

From the abstract:
By showing that the frequency of occurrence scales as an inverse power of the severity of the event, and assuming that this relationship holds at higher magnitudes, we are able to estimate the probability that an event larger than some criteria will occur within a certain interval of time in the future. For example, the probability of another Carrington event (based on Dst < −850 nT) occurring within the next decade is ∼12%. We also identify and address several limitations with this approach. In particular, we assume time stationarity, and thus, the effects of long-term space climate change are not considered. While this technique cannot be used to predict specific events, it may ultimately be useful for probabilistic forecasting.
[long-term space climate change is a myth started by Obama and scientists to advance their agenda. Only Newt Gingrich's moon bases will be able to save us!]
posted by birdherder at 1:50 PM on February 29, 2012


"Since the beginning of time, mankind has yearned to destroy the sun." - C. Montgomery Burns Rupert Murdoch.
posted by stonepharisee at 1:50 PM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


I lived in a city of 150,000 where 90 percent of the town lost power for over a week (13 days in my case) because of an ice storm. You don't know how bad you need power until its gone, everywhere.
You barbecue all the time (the first few days) and eat cold canned food, because everything everywhere has spoiled and your stove doesnt work. You can't go anywhere, because the traffic lights don't work. As pointed out, you can't use debit cards because there's no where to process them.
Aid showed up in the form of utility people from neighboring towns and states after a few days and really helped the overwhelmed local electricians with getting the power lines set up. But you know who showed up before the wonderful utility people? Guys who went to every store, bought every generator in town with cash, and went around selling them at exorbitant markup. Assholes.
Massive power outages suck, and that was in one corner of the Midwest. I can't imagine what something nationwide, or worldwide would bring out. I think the best in people, and guys with access to lots of cash and no scruples.
posted by joechip at 2:01 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I mean, we've done this already, haven't we? It was called the Northeast Blackout of 2003, and our systems (gas generators, phone networks, UPS systems, and most importantly our social networks) are robust enough to take it."

This kind of event is a little different. What is being talked about is the geomagnetic storm damaging and destroying critical pieces of the electrical grid. Pieces that there aren't ready spares for, and not many places are even set up to manufacture. Remember what happened with the Thailand floods in the fall and hard drives? Picture that sort of supply pinch coupled with everyone in the world suddenly having their hard drives crap out and needing a replacement NOW. That's what will happen with the electric grid's components. Even standing up new manufacturing will take weeks.

It'll be like the Northeast Blackout of 2003, except it will cover the entire grid and in many areas go on for months, or possibly a year or more.
posted by barc0001 at 2:04 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not so much erase [hard drives] as cause them to come to a screeching halt, either by burning out control mechanisms, and/or read/mechanisms. Not sure what would happen to solid state drives, but it might not matter if the computers or hard drive enclosures they're in are fried.

I'm pretty sure this will only create dangerous currents in very long wires. Hard drives will not be erased. Maybe some computers (and other electronics) will be destroyed by power surges, but for the most part a surge protector or UPS will protect your computer from damage. Most business's computers will be reasonably well protected, though some transformers or networking equipment may be damaged. Don't expect a Fight Club type scenario.

I'd like to hear more about the statistical side of this. It sounds like he's making this estimate based purely on the number of events of different magnitude. It doesn't sound like this model even cares whether solar events are statistically independent - but if they are either there's always a 12% chance of a big event every decade, or there's some gambler's fallacy happening here. If it's always 12%, we've been a little lucky not to have seen one for 15 decades but not ridiculously so - there's about a 13.5% chance that a 12.5% likely event will miss 15 times in a row.
posted by aubilenon at 2:14 PM on February 29, 2012


Everybody sits outside and barbecues all the meat that was in their freezers.

That was also my father's experience after Hurricane Rita a few years ago. He went a few hours drive inland to stay with relatives, only to end up right under the brunt of the storm track anyway. Relatives had a basement freezer full of beef, power was out for the next 4-5 days, there was a lot of grilling happening.
posted by gimonca at 2:14 PM on February 29, 2012


That is my official explanation for why I keep buying hardcover books.
posted by ocschwar at 2:15 PM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


It'll be like the Northeast Blackout of 2003, except it will cover the entire grid and in many areas go on for months, or possibly a year or more.

Yeah, I think it's those longer time periods that nobody has any experience with. A week or two, sure, we know what that's like. Six months? There be dragons.
posted by gimonca at 2:16 PM on February 29, 2012


He went a few hours drive inland to stay with relatives,

A Carrington Event can kill any car with a computer operated fuel injector.

Have a nice day.
posted by ocschwar at 2:19 PM on February 29, 2012


I devoted five minutes of serious thought to how dependent our fire/rescue equipment is on electronics.

We're doomed.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:19 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


That is my official explanation for why I keep buying hardcover books.

Good move. The paperbacks will catch on fire like Kindles, err kindling.
posted by birdherder at 2:20 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am actually a solar physicist and work with a number of scientists whose main interest is space weather forecasting.

I think the suggestion that a major geomagnetic storm is imminent and likely to wreck everything is a just a little bit overblown. The people who run airlines and power grids and natural gas pipelines and satellites are well aware of the risks and have extensive plans to deal with the effects of a big storm. And it's not like something happens and five seconds later we're all screwed; we observe events on the sun in real time, and it takes days or -- at the absolute extreme, 12-24 hours -- for us to feel the effects major events. So there is time between the trigger and onset of the storm to take action and prepare.

Meanwhile, in the wake of one of the deepest solar activity minima in a long time, my colleagues can't even agree on whether we're headed for massive geomagnetic storms like those described above or whether the solar cycle -- and solar activity -- is likely to temporarily stop altogether in the coming decade. And plenty of people think that the latter case could plunge North America and Western Europe into a series of the coldest winters in centuries. So everybody gets to worry about that as well.

All this is to say that we don't know what's coming at all. While preparedness and awareness is good, panic isn't really called for.

Historical digression possibly interesting only to me: The storms that accompanied the Carrington event that modernnomad noted above were so big -- and the flare that triggered the storms so visible from earth -- that Carrington himself made the link between the two and published a brief note about the connection in his discussion of observations of the flare some 70 years before Chapman & Ferraro published what is widely regarded as the seminal work in our understanding of the origins of magnetic storms.

A consummate scientist, Carrington did not speculate without strong evidence or theory to back up his conclusion. He pointed out the simultaneity the two events, but then argued against hastily attributing one to the other, saying, "One swallow does not make a summer."

posted by dseaton at 2:21 PM on February 29, 2012 [32 favorites]


It's depressing that, as I consider the list of catastrophes that keep me up at night, a Carrington event isn't even in the running.

Take it from me, folks: you want to become proficient with a crossbow and/or atlatl well before the cannibalistic rape gangs show up.

Or flare gun.


Why would you want to signal the cannibalistic rape gangs?
posted by AdamCSnider at 2:21 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Good thing I still have all those MREs I stocked up for Y2K.
posted by ocschwar at 2:24 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks dseaton for supplying some more background.
posted by birdherder at 2:37 PM on February 29, 2012


The people who run airlines and power grids and natural gas pipelines and satellites are well aware of the risks and have extensive plans to deal with the effects of a big storm.

Yes, if there's anything the past 15 years have shown us is how prepared the People In Charge are for Big Events (9/11, 2004 tsunami, Katrina, 2011 tsunami, Deepwater Horizon, etc.)
posted by entropicamericana at 2:40 PM on February 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


A Carrington Event can kill any car with a computer operated fuel injector.

This sounds a lot more like a Goldeneye-style EMP than like a solar storm. They are different things. The damage to the power grid from a solar storm is caused by geomagnetically induced current - which is one effect of EMPs also, but it only affects kilometer long wires, and so only is mostly only affects infrastructure. The damage to computers, etc, caused by an EMP is a separate effect, and is not also caused by solar events.

Here is wikipedia's description of what will be disrupted or damaged by a big solar storm. Basically power grids may have problems (more in the US than Europe!), and radio communications may be crummy.
posted by aubilenon at 2:44 PM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


The difference between a Carrington-type event and a power outage is that the former could damage a great deal of the power-generation and distribution infrastructure in lots of parts of the world, and it would take quite a while to repair it. Buried power lines are a swell idea. It might have the same effect as the 1998 icepocalypse(caticetrophe?), which was impressive here in Maine, but far worse in Canada, and across a much large area.

During the previous solar maximum, our upstream Internet provider had an outage due to sunspots. Best Helpdesk ticket resolution reason ever.

Not an entirely bad idea to have resources for surviving a week without power/ and with a broken distribution system for food. I will hug my wood stove when I get home.
posted by theora55 at 3:01 PM on February 29, 2012


I was visiting downtown Ottawa during the last East Coast blackout.

Here is what happens to Canadians when the power goes out in the summer:

You only have to small amount of cash in your pocket. Your debit card is useless. You are now just about broke.

There is nowhere to spend the money because the cash registers don't work and all the shops and restaurants close.


I was in Ottawa too, and at this point things were different for me:

You look across the river and notice all the lights are still on in Quebec, a short distance away.

You make your way to Quebec where your debit card still works and everything is operating as usual.

This might be a good time to buy lots of cold beer and have your friends over. Oh hey look, a fry truck! Poutine would rule right about now.
posted by Hoopo at 3:03 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, I think the Sun has made it quite clear that it doesn't want to be our friend.

We know what we need to do.


Kill it with fire?
posted by dibblda at 3:08 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


It might have the same effect as the 1998 icepocalypse(caticetrophe?), which was impressive here in Maine, but far worse in Canada, and across a much large area.

Heh, I was in the middle of that, too. It was beautiful! And dangerous.
posted by Hoopo at 3:09 PM on February 29, 2012


Buried power lines are a swell idea

There are a lot of practical and aesthetic advantages to burying power lines, but this is not one of them. Solar storms deform the earth's magnetic field. This changing field induces currents even in the somewhat conductive ground itself. Any large conductor in the earth's magnetic field is subject to this effect, whether above, on, or under the ground.
posted by aubilenon at 3:55 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


We know what we need to do.

deploy a giant space umbrella?
posted by elizardbits at 4:05 PM on February 29, 2012


It might have the same effect as the 1998 icepocalypse(caticetrophe?), which was impressive here in Maine, but far worse in Canada, and across a much large area.

It wasn't much fun for Quebec, but it was rather lovely in New Brunswick.
posted by Phalene at 4:18 PM on February 29, 2012


Parasol, no?
posted by aubilenon at 4:18 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder how much of this is an actual realistic scenario vs some worst case unlikely scare story cooked up to drive ratings and page views.
posted by humanfont at 4:30 PM on February 29, 2012


> I am actually a solar physicist and work with a number of scientists whose main interest is space weather forecasting.
> I think the suggestion that a major geomagnetic storm is imminent and likely to wreck everything is a just a little
> bit overblown.
>
> posted by dseaton at 5:21 PM on February 29 [10 favorites +] [!]

More generally true than just here. Unless and until you actually see the onrushing tsunami or the incoming warheads, whatever threat you're worried about is not quite as threatening as you think it is.
posted by jfuller at 5:06 PM on February 29, 2012


Glad I picked up a brick of 100AA batteries today at Fry's
posted by bottlebrushtree at 5:25 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


"We know what we need to do."

Nuke it from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:36 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Impact Event: Why the era of the dinosaurs ended.

The Carrington Event: Why the era of the Steampunks ended.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:02 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am actually a solar physicist and work with a number of scientists whose main interest is space weather forecasting.

So 12%, that's a two d10 roll?

I only ask because my Earth character sheet has been around for 4.5 billion years and it's only in the last 10,000 that she's gotten +2 intelligence that helps me avoid natural disasters.
She's only -1 wisdom due to the recent greed trait.

I'm hoping you guys will cut Earth some slack, particularly after all the critical hits she took during the Permian-Triassic campaign.
And I've already got all these cool pics of her.

Look, should I just go ahead and roll up Mars now?
posted by Smedleyman at 6:14 PM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Wow, anyone think of how a Nuclear Power plant would handle something like this?
posted by Increase at 6:29 PM on February 29, 2012


There are devices that can reduce or block the damage such as giant series capacitors. But they are expensive and are therefore usually only installed after-the-fact.

Hydro Ontario spent 1.2 billion dollars (PDF) installing them after a solar storm in 1989 caused a massive blackout, costing an estimated 2 billion dollars. Sounds cost effective to me (if they work), but it is still hard to convince people to spend that kind of money up front.
posted by eye of newt at 8:04 PM on February 29, 2012


"So, I think the Sun has made it quite clear that it doesn't want to be our friend.

We know what we need to do."

Moon it?
posted by BinGregory at 8:13 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Look, should I just go ahead and roll up Mars now?

Only if the King needs a really big katamari.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:47 PM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Wired had an excellent article on that ice-storm power outage in Canada.
posted by dglynn at 6:04 AM on March 1, 2012


This is exactly why I've spent the last two weeks building an enormous underground silo in my backyard and nominating myself Head of IT.
posted by staggering termagant at 8:08 AM on March 1, 2012


Would an aircraft carrier be long enough to get that induction effect?! How about the LHC? (ooo, I smell a Dr. Who episode in there).
posted by Goofyy at 10:52 AM on March 1, 2012


This is exactly why I've spent the last two weeks building an enormous underground silo in my backyard and nominating myself Head of IT.

Somebody's read Wool!
posted by spacewaitress at 2:15 PM on March 1, 2012


Catastrophic Solar Megastorm is the name of my Disaster Area cover band.
posted by hattifattener at 5:23 PM on March 1, 2012


The main vector for damage of power systems during a huge solar flare is just because you end up with a big dc offset[1] along long distance power lines, which pushes the switch gear and transformers way out of their ordinary operating parameters into a state that causes huge stresses on the gear[2]. One of the side effects of the 1989 geomagnetically induced fuckage is that there's a lot more precautions in place as far as filtering and trying to isolate the power transmissions from the dc offsets.

[1] solar flare is a huge pile of electrons hitting the earth's magnetic field. Which creates a voltage differential between different parts of the earth because you've got charge and a moving magnetic field all interacting. (iirc, in a north-south direction, but it's been years since I looked at this stuff).

[2] normally, transformer operating behavior looks like a nice sloped straight line. but if you pull your scale back a bit, it's more like a huge S, and when you get out of normal operating parameters, you wander into that S part so that suddenly you're getting way more stresses on the system because your offset voltage has pushed it into that territory.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:13 AM on March 2, 2012


Keep in mind that the largest solar flare recorded so far is that of November 4, 2003 - so strong it overwhelmed the GOES sensors, but which other measures rate at X-28 to X-45. What happened?

Commercial and amateur radio operators have been aware of geomagnetic storms for nearly a century - along with, no doubt, power plants. This stuff is not new. "Hardening the grid" would cost on the order of $150 million, yet there's no panicked rush. No need to add to your 2012 jittery millenial fever over it.
posted by Twang at 11:21 PM on March 11, 2012


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