April 2, 2009
Earlier in the week I was reading one of my weather blogs. He mentioned quickly at the end that solar maximum was coming in a few years, 2012 is the forecast. This particular blog is busiest during the hurricane season. So during these less active times he chooses other topics. Space weather seems to be this weekâ€™s topic. At the very end he says his next post will be about the â€˜Carrington Eventâ€™ and how a similar event could be the costliest natural disaster in history. How can you leave me with a tease like that?
Iâ€™m a big fan of natural disasters. Not that Iâ€™m in to the death or destruction. I just think their scale makes them extremely interesting, and, well, cool. If they could not hurt anybody in the process, thatâ€™d wouldnâ€™t make me appear so evil. I will confess however that I always turned off natural disasters in SimCity, but that was more because I thought the monster attacks occurred far too often to be realistic. Iâ€™ve always been interested in hurricanes. As a kid during the summer The Weather Channels hourly Tropical Update routinely interrupted viewings of American Gladiators. Then there are all the disaster shows on The Science Channel, Discovery Channel, and PBS. Tsunamis, super volcanoes, earthquakes, meteors; give me a show about any of them and Iâ€™m on board. One tip: if you are thinking about moving to Seattle, visiting, or even just know anyone there you care about, donâ€™t watch these shows. It seems that Seattle is the city most at risk for every type of disaster, especially tsunamis and super volcanoes.
I headed to Google, expecting to find a Wikipedia entry about this Carrington Event. Even better, an excellent page on the NASA site about the whole thing. They refer to it as the Carrington Super Flare. Back in 1859 a solar astronomer was checking out the sun one morning and saw blinding light appear over some sunspots. So far, Iâ€™m a little skeptical. All Iâ€™m hearing is an observation from 1859. How good were solar telescopes back then? And how can this be compared to any other solar event? The event did disrupt telegraph connections, but again, couldnâ€™t the wind do that? The next night auroras lit up the sky as far as the tropics. So Janos could have gone to the Caribbean instead of the Yukon Territory to propose. They mention that it was so bright you could read outside. Is that really the best example? There must have been some sort of outdoor activity more popular than reading in 1859.
Of course, scientists like evidence. They figured out that you could measure solar events in arctic ice. What canâ€™t you do with arctic ice (besides make more of it)? They found that this event was the largest in 500 years and twice as large as the closest competitor. So most predict it will be a while until another event quite as large. Personally, I donâ€™t trust the sun, never have. Itâ€™s always a suspect when all my gadgets start acting up at the same time. Plus, we canâ€™t have that much information about stars. Weâ€™ve only got one to look at closely. For most things related to stars, I think I best guesses for events are in the +/- million year range.
As for what might happen if it did occur: Satellites â€“ done. Astronauts â€“ stay indoors. On the ground â€“ radar and cell phones could be affected. Youâ€™d figure by now most of these things could handle solar events. But I guess they are only tested for the average type of event. There were probably only a handful of cell towers back in 1859 so you canâ€™t compare. My guess is that the world would wind up like in Dark Angel. Which, while losing all our data stored on computers would be a downer, would actually be a benefit because it would take us back to a time before Jessica Alba made so many terrible movies.