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I see your Great Recession, climate change, asteroid collision and super-volcano, and raise you a space storm!
March 25, 2009 3:09 PM   Subscribe

Sick of worrying about the global financial crisis? Got global warming fatigue? Here's a whole new threat to worry about: NASA is warning that the world is ill-prepared for a Carrington event that wil melt electricity grids world-wide with 90 seconds notice. If it's any consolation, it's going to look real pretty
posted by girlgenius (60 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Carrington event link
posted by doctor_negative at 3:12 PM on March 25, 2009


IT IS midnight on 22 September 2012 and the skies above Manhattan are filled with a flickering curtain of colourful light.

Also X-Files aliens and vengeful Mayan star demons.
posted by Artw at 3:13 PM on March 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


thank you doctor_negative - my bad
posted by girlgenius at 3:13 PM on March 25, 2009


The Hollywood disaster movie pretty much writes itself. Transformers 3, anyone? *titter*
posted by Awakened at 3:19 PM on March 25, 2009


Nice first post girlgenius. Thanks very much.
posted by netbros at 3:22 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Scientists of one form or another have been predicting the downfall of our modern systems for a while (Y2K anyone?). I tend to think that if an event such as these was so easily predictable and probable, the powers-that-be would probably keep it from the masses.
posted by CPAGirl at 3:24 PM on March 25, 2009


Even more disconcerting, telegraph systems worldwide went haywire. Spark discharges shocked telegraph operators and set the telegraph paper on fire. Even when telegraphers disconnected the batteries powering the lines, aurora-induced electric currents in the wires still allowed messages to be transmitted.

Youch.
posted by Artw at 3:24 PM on March 25, 2009


Carrington later wrote, "I hastily ran to call someone to witness the exhibition with me. On returning within 60 seconds, I was mortified to find that it was already much changed and enfeebled."

Metafilter: much changed and enfeebled

those damned favorites...
posted by Joe Beese at 3:28 PM on March 25, 2009


'sokay, I have a surge protector.
posted by deliquescent at 3:30 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I heard it won't affect Macs.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:31 PM on March 25, 2009 [45 favorites]


Seems to me that adequate shielding for the important things should be enough. What would be brilliant is if we were able to capture and store the energy. Although the economics of building supermassive supercapacitors sitting around waiting for a Carrington event are probably not good.
posted by molecicco at 3:47 PM on March 25, 2009


/wraps tinfoil around entire electrical grid.
posted by Artw at 3:48 PM on March 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


Well, thanks a lot.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:52 PM on March 25, 2009


Superconducting HVDC grid
posted by Artw at 3:53 PM on March 25, 2009


molecicco: "What would be brilliant is if we were able to capture and store the energy."

Especially in ocean depths and in outer space energy is free for the taking in amounts lavish beyond all human comprehension. Those who spoke of "energy scarcity" and "conserving energy" simply did not understand the situation. The sky was "raining soup"; what was needed was a bucket in which to carry it. - Robert Heinlein
posted by Joe Beese at 3:54 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


> If it's any consolation, it's going to look real pretty

I assume you meant demonic. Seriously, that is some evil-looking shit, right there, that is.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:56 PM on March 25, 2009


Nicholas Cage was right!
posted by dibblda at 4:00 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nicholas Cage was right!

But only his brother Faraday will be able to save the day.
posted by yoink at 4:18 PM on March 25, 2009 [36 favorites]




The NYT had a few write ups, with some great descriptions.

A Mr. Meriam opined that "The Aurora (electricity discharged from the craters of volcanoes) either dissolves in the atmosphere, and is thus diffused through space or concentrated into a gelatinous substance forming meteors, called shooting stars."
posted by bepe at 4:40 PM on March 25, 2009


The first page didn't mention the likelihood of one of these actually happening, so I didn't bother with the rest.

Do we even have any evidence of this ever happening?
posted by Afroblanco at 4:41 PM on March 25, 2009


(in other words, has it happened before?)
posted by Afroblanco at 4:41 PM on March 25, 2009


Read the second link.
posted by enn at 4:42 PM on March 25, 2009


Hey, it's only happened like once in the last 500 years!
posted by Artw at 4:46 PM on March 25, 2009


Check out the sunspot plotter for Sept. 1, 1859. (Oops, looks like you'll have to enter the date manually.)

Might be amusing to see whether the sunspot curves leading up to other historical flares have any significant resemblances to the run-up to the big 1859 one.
posted by jamjam at 4:55 PM on March 25, 2009


Alternative Carrington event.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:13 PM on March 25, 2009


I've been wondering about this for literally decades, since I was a bit of a teenage armageddon-porn addict, and why as we increasingly depend completely on electronic and computerized systems to keep our civilizations running and store the totality of our knowledge and information, and as we embed those systems in more and more of our devices, this kind of thing wasn't being talked about more.

It's amusing to think that a species could be knocked into a new dark age just because they didn't have a sufficiently rigorous regime of backups.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:15 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


(in other words, has it happened before?)

Yes. Thankfully, we were not in the trajectory.
posted by ymgve at 5:19 PM on March 25, 2009


In related news, the Department of Homeland Security has just added The Sun to it's list of wanted terror suspects.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:32 PM on March 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


This is why all my backup servers are on Mars.
posted by The Whelk at 6:12 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I spy an opportunity to sell tinfoil shielding kits to survivalists. It smells like money.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:13 PM on March 25, 2009


I hadn't heard of the Carrington event until NASA publicized it. There was a solar flare about 6 - 8 years ago that affected Internet connectivity. Solar flares that affect power transmission haven't been rare. But there's no way of knowing when, or if, an event of this magnitude will happen again.

Turns out my tinfoil Faraday cage hat really is useful.
posted by theora55 at 6:30 PM on March 25, 2009


It's amusing to think that a species could be knocked into a new dark age just because they didn't have a sufficiently rigorous regime of backups.


I've tought about this a lot, and forgive any gross mistkaes cause my books are elsewhere, but isn't this what kept Egyption Culture fresh for like a couple thousand years? How Classical thought kept going cause during the slow-burn general collapse of the Roman Empire, people just holed up in their self-sustaining villas? A kind of "we're taking our culture and going home" attitude which grew into the first monasteries? And they didn't get sacked too often until the books became something cared about again cause the Muslim world really, really wanted them?

Like until the 1500s, when the biggest retro fashion EVER hit Europe and they all wanted to be Greek?
posted by The Whelk at 6:33 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Huh. Well, to be on the safe side I've bookmarked a bunch of instructables pages on how to build stuff that don't need electricity, so I should be ok, right?

(I also have this book, a camp axe & some matches. So I'm rarin' to go.)
posted by Salmonberry at 6:53 PM on March 25, 2009


I say we accelerate global warming so that earth becomes a second sun. A bit of market competition will surely force the currently monopolistic sun to offer a more reliable service.
posted by qvantamon at 7:06 PM on March 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I say we accelerate global warming so that earth becomes a second sun


HOTTT REAL ESTATE ON EUROPA! NO MONEY DOWN!!!! HAVE YOUR DREAM HOUSE OFF-WORLD!!!!!! TAKE OUR SIMPLE TEST!!!!
posted by The Whelk at 7:31 PM on March 25, 2009


I, for one, will welcome our new Amish overlords.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:32 PM on March 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


How Classical thought kept going cause during the slow-burn general collapse of the Roman Empire, people just holed up in their self-sustaining villas?

If by "self-sustaining villa" you mean "The Byzantine Empire", then yes.
posted by Ndwright at 7:50 PM on March 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't think The Whelk was kidding. Looks like he's got a whole data center there....
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 7:54 PM on March 25, 2009


Previously on Mefi

A map of predicted outages.

We were just discussing this last night!
posted by sararah at 8:23 PM on March 25, 2009



If by "self-sustaining villa" you mean "The Byzantine Empire", then yes.

Er, both yes and no. The Eastern Christian Roman Empire does get the historical shaft, doesn't it? Which is a shame, they had far, far better scandals and insane plots.
posted by The Whelk at 8:30 PM on March 25, 2009


Alternative alternative Carrington event.
posted by Guy Smiley at 8:44 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Disasterbation. The article says Carrington saw the flare one day and -the next day- there were electrical disturbances. That's probably enough time for even Pacific Flicker & Flash to disconnect their transformers. It's not as though there is no one looking at the sun nowadays.
posted by jet_silver at 9:03 PM on March 25, 2009


jet silver: You may wish to rtfa
posted by Goofyy at 11:56 PM on March 25, 2009


You may also wish to brush up on basic physics. The sun is about 8 light-minutes away.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:56 AM on March 26, 2009


I live in Norway. Almost 100% of our electricity comes from hydropower. This means that it's cheap and that we consume it like there's no tomorrow, but it should also be reasonably robust against this sort of thing - provided there's some spare generator cores around.
posted by Harald74 at 3:04 AM on March 26, 2009


As I understand it, the problem is not the flare itself (unless you're a satellite or on a spacewalk) but the impact of all those charged particles into the earths magnetic field causes eddys and ripples that then induct current into any nice long cables we have strung about the place, overloading transformers etc. These ripples presumbly last significantly longer than the initial particle impact that caused them (like ripples across a pond)

If the flare was strong enough, it would presumably causes ripples strong enough to induct currents in smaller devices, like say, home electronics. The thought of the EM equivalent of say, that caused by an airburst nuclear weapon happening with a few minutes warning and lasting hours or even days, does not fill me with happy thoughts, especially with all the satellite casualties to boot.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:29 AM on March 26, 2009


Just to take a brighter note, (not to throw cold water on the disasturbators) Carrington events are thought to occur once or twice a millenia... Even then, there's a 50/50 chance that said mega flare could erupt on the sun's side facing away from the earth, (or even partly, reducing the surge load on earth). Either of those factors would reduce the rare event to a footnote.
Furthermore, a little less than half the earth would be on the night side of things, and reduced to spectator status, at least for the event itself if not the aftermath, which i dare say would kick up quite a bit more business than Y2K.
posted by Fupped Duck at 4:43 AM on March 26, 2009


I live in Norway. Almost 100% of our electricity comes from hydropower. This means that it's cheap and that we consume it like there's no tomorrow, but it should also be reasonably robust against this sort of thing - provided there's some spare generator cores around.

You may want to look into how Quebec & Ontario generate a lot of their electricity. I grew up in Ontario and we called electricity "Hydro". Being huge grids these areas tend to be the primary recipient of solar flare problems. Your method of generation is not protection against solar flare problems.
posted by srboisvert at 4:43 AM on March 26, 2009


Ah, the follies of the electric car. The fools!

"It's amusing to think that a species could be knocked into a new dark age just because they didn't have a sufficiently rigorous regime of backups."

Assuming you're talking about data backups, it make sense. What makes our species special? Language. Language is a backup system. You can store information in other members of your species. Writing is just a more permanent distribution system. As a species, we are only as good as our backups.
posted by Eideteker at 5:07 AM on March 26, 2009


Fupped Duck: I thought the 1 in 500 to 1000 years chance was 1 in 500 years that hit earth based upon ice core records, i.e. they occur more frequently, but miss?

CPAGirl: the reason not much happened on Y2K is because IT engineers around the world spent anything up to 10 years of their lives working to replace or fix systems that would have problems, and companies spent vast amounts of money in preparation. Basically, we get ridiculed because we did the damn job right before it all went wrong.

Yes, the hysteria about planes falling out of the sky and cars not starting was always overblown, but there were very real problems with gas pipeline flow control safety systems shutting off, accounting systems that would screw up payroll, and even ordinary pc networks in offices where they'd be stuck on the wrong date and not log on. I know this, because as part of the Y2K upgrades I was involved with fixing problems with all three.

You'd be surprised how much network software relies on computers all having pretty accurate date and time records, for encryption and logging for starters.

Next up - 2038, when the unix 32-bit date counter runs over, and they start thinking today is a day in 1901 instead of 19th January 2038. Think nobody will be running software or systems that are vulnerable by then? Well, that's what they thought in the 60's, that nobody would still be using a 2 digit year record 30 years later. Hell, some systems like pension calculation systems that look 30 years ahead have already been affected.
posted by ArkhanJG at 5:34 AM on March 26, 2009 [4 favorites]


Yeah, well, this'd give me ample excuse to gloat over my old-timey paper-based books while watching my friends' Kindles burst into flame. As Monty Python taught us, 'Always look on the bright side of life...' *commence whistling*
posted by jamstigator at 6:37 AM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Tim Harrington Event.
posted by yeti at 6:44 AM on March 26, 2009


I support this massive wave of solar raditation on the off chance it might give me superpowers. And with the rest of the world bumped back to 1950s-level technology and records (and hairstyles and fashion if this is going to work), I can singlehandedly create Superman as a reality in this new, alternate timeline. Isn't that worth losing 4chan and twitter for?
posted by The Whelk at 7:36 AM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hooray for the Sparkle Pony Apocalypse!
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:26 AM on March 26, 2009


You may also wish to brush up on basic physics. The sun is about 8 light-minutes away.

Since when do charged particles travel at the speed of light?
posted by ryanrs at 12:17 PM on March 26, 2009


srboisvert: You may want to look into how Quebec & Ontario generate a lot of their electricity. I grew up in Ontario and we called electricity "Hydro". Being huge grids these areas tend to be the primary recipient of solar flare problems. Your method of generation is not protection against solar flare problems.

No, I gathered as much, but the whole hydro-power setup seems to be more easily repaired once the flare is over. In a Carrington event, that means being able to get civilization up and running again in a shorter timespan.

Anyways, there's a good science fiction story in here somewhere. Think Dies the fire with actual human characters and non-grating writing, and sans magick.
posted by Harald74 at 3:12 PM on March 26, 2009


Since when do charged particles travel at the speed of light?

Good point. I didn't RTFA, my apologies. Coronal mass ejections apparently range in speed from about 20 km/s to 2,700 km/s, far below the speed of light, so presumably it would take at least two orders of magnitude more time for the plasma to reach Earth. Although presumably the X-ray burst would reach us in the canonical 8 minutes.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:11 PM on March 26, 2009


Well, doesn't this sort of cataclysmic event go hand in hand with electing a black president?

Wait, the president is black?
posted by nax at 7:38 PM on April 3, 2009




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