Carrington-class CME narrowly misses Earth

May 05, 2014 by Dr. Tony Phillips

Last month (April 8-11), scientists, government officials, emergency planners and others converged on Boulder, Colorado, for NOAA's Space Weather Workshop—an annual gathering to discuss the perils and probabilities of solar storms.

The current solar cycle is weaker than usual, so you might expect a correspondingly low-key meeting. On the contrary, the halls and meeting rooms were abuzz with excitement about an intense solar that narrowly missed Earth.

"If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces," says Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado, who presented a talk entitled The Major Solar Eruptive Event in July 2012: Defining Extreme Space Weather Scenarios.

The close shave happened almost two years ago. On July 23, 2012, a plasma cloud or "CME" rocketed away from the sun as fast as 3000 km/s, more than four times faster than a typical eruption. The storm tore through Earth orbit, but fortunately Earth wasn't there. Instead it hit the STEREO-A spacecraft. Researchers have been analyzing the data ever since, and they have concluded that the storm was one of the strongest in recorded history. "It might have been stronger than the Carrington Event itself," says Baker.

The Carrington Event of Sept. 1859 was a series of powerful CMEs that hit Earth head-on, sparking Northern Lights as far south as Tahiti. Intense geomagnetic storms caused global telegraph lines to spark, setting fire to some telegraph offices and disabling the 'Victorian Internet." A similar storm today could have a catastrophic effect on modern power grids and telecommunication networks. According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina. Multi-ton transformers fried by such a storm could take years to repair and impact national security.

A recent paper in Nature Communications authored by UC Berkeley space physicist Janet G. Luhmann and former postdoc Ying D. Liu describes what gave the July 2012 storm Carrington-like potency. For one thing, the CME was actually two CMEs separated by only 10 to 15 minutes. This double storm cloud traveled through a region of space that had been cleared out by another CME only four days earlier. As a result, the CMEs were not decelerated as much as usual by their transit through the interplanetary medium.

Had the eruption occurred just one week earlier, the blast site would have been facing Earth, rather than off to the side, so it was a relatively narrow escape.

When the Carrington Event enveloped Earth in the 19th century, technologies of the day were hardly sensitive to electromagnetic disturbances. Modern society, on the other hand, is deeply dependent on sun-sensitive technologies such as GPS, satellite communications and the internet.

"The effect of such a storm on our modern technologies would be tremendous," says Luhmann.

During informal discussions at the workshop, Nat Gopalswamy of the Goddard Space Flight Center noted that "without NASA's STEREO probes, we might never have known the severity of the 2012 superstorm. This shows the value of having ' buoys' located all around the sun."

It also highlights the potency of the sun even during so-called "quiet times." Many observers have noted that the current solar cycle is weak, perhaps the weakest in 100 years. Clearly, even a weak can produce a very strong storm.

Says Baker, "We need to be prepared."

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indio007
1.8 / 5 (14) May 05, 2014
Says Baker, "We need to be prepared."

Translation: "Give us some money."
ThomasQuinn
4.4 / 5 (7) May 05, 2014
Says Baker, "We need to be prepared."

Translation: "Give us some money."


Are you so cynical that you deny that we need to prepare for such an event?
Scottingham
4.7 / 5 (3) May 05, 2014
Personally, I'm prepared to deal with a prolonged power outtage of a few weeks. Whether it be from this or a hurricane (I live in NC) or something...
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.4 / 5 (7) May 05, 2014
"We need to be prepared."

-Famous last words.

Funny, we can appreciate the need for proaction in the face of natural threats, but fail to see that the threat from human enemies is just as dangerous and just as inevitable.
ThomasQuinn
4.3 / 5 (6) May 05, 2014
"We need to be prepared."

-Famous last words.

Funny, we can appreciate the need for proaction in the face of natural threats, but fail to see that the threat from human enemies is just as dangerous and just as inevitable.


Your point being? Build huge armies, create a new arms race and launch pre-emptive strikes? Or what?
Doug_Huffman
1 / 5 (6) May 05, 2014
Are you so cynical that you deny that we need to prepare for such an event?
Are you so credulous that you believe that preparation is possible? See the Pareto Distribution for geophysical phenomena. See Taleb's Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder on robust infrastructure, and his The Black Swan for your failure of inductive inference of rare events.

My only mains power dependent househole infrastructure is the deepwell pump, while I live in the largest body of potable water.
Modernmystic
1.5 / 5 (8) May 05, 2014
"We need to be prepared."

-Famous last words.

Funny, we can appreciate the need for proaction in the face of natural threats, but fail to see that the threat from human enemies is just as dangerous and just as inevitable.


Your point being? Build huge armies, create a new arms race and launch pre-emptive strikes? Or what?


I'm curious where could you possibly get that from his quote? I think he's making an extremely good point about the possibility of a Rogue state detonating a nuclear device high in the atmosphere producing an EMP which could take all of North America back into the 1800s indefinitely. 90% of urban populations would starve in the first year because transportation of food would be nil, not to mention the loss of modern medicine, and communication.

I think that we should make BOTH cases because different people see threats differently. The point being both are real and both are completely avoidable with preparation (hardening electronics).
ab3a
4 / 5 (4) May 05, 2014
Personally, I'm prepared to deal with a prolonged power outtage of a few weeks. Whether it be from this or a hurricane (I live in NC) or something...


A few weeks? Recovery from something like this would optimistically take months.
Jeffhans1
3 / 5 (6) May 05, 2014
This would cause fires in almost every house in the modern world. Every cell phone, house phone, house with wiring next to wood or plastic, airplane, car or boat with enough feet of wiring will overheat and emit toxic smoke at the very least. Imagine being in an office building when suddenly all of the lights start glowing brighter as every electronic piece in earshot goes haywire as it screams random sounds, glows, and then erupts in black choking smoke. Smoke alarms would be just one more melting and smoking hazard.
dramamoose
3.3 / 5 (7) May 05, 2014


I'm curious where could you possibly get that from his quote? I think he's making an extremely good point about the possibility of a Rogue state detonating a nuclear device high in the atmosphere producing an EMP which could take all of North America back into the 1800s indefinitely....


You're seriously overstating the risks here. Even assuming a rogue state was capable of launching a device high over NA (they're not), it would NOT produce an EMP which would do the damage you're insinuating.
Doug_Huffman
2 / 5 (4) May 05, 2014
This would cause fires in almost every house in the modern world. Every cell phone, house phone, house with wiring next to wood or plastic, airplane, car or boat with enough feet of wiring will overheat and emit toxic smoke at the very least. Imagine being in an office building when suddenly all of the lights start glowing brighter as every electronic piece in earshot goes haywire as it screams random sounds, glows, and then erupts in black choking smoke. Smoke alarms would be just one more melting and smoking hazard.
Barbara Streisand hysterical hyperbole. Current can flow only in a circuit.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (5) May 05, 2014


I'm curious where could you possibly get that from his quote? I think he's making an extremely good point about the possibility of a Rogue state detonating a nuclear device high in the atmosphere producing an EMP which could take all of North America back into the 1800s indefinitely....


You're seriously overstating the risks here. Even assuming a rogue state was capable of launching a device high over NA (they're not), it would NOT produce an EMP which would do the damage you're insinuating.


No I'm not overstating the case at all. And YES all Iran would have to do is put a Shabab-3 missile on a cargo ship with some tarps over it to defeat our oh so sophisticated satellites, park it in the gulf of mexico and shoot it off over Kansas. Even a low yield kiloton weapon could do massive damage to the US, Mexico, and Canada. The threat is very real, especially since we de-funded missile defense...
Modernmystic
3.5 / 5 (6) May 05, 2014
This would cause fires in almost every house in the modern world. Every cell phone, house phone, house with wiring next to wood or plastic, airplane, car or boat with enough feet of wiring will overheat and emit toxic smoke at the very least. Imagine being in an office building when suddenly all of the lights start glowing brighter as every electronic piece in earshot goes haywire as it screams random sounds, glows, and then erupts in black choking smoke. Smoke alarms would be just one more melting and smoking hazard.
Barbara Streisand hysterical hyperbole. Current can flow only in a circuit.


Uh, Mr. Huffman, the point of an EMP is that it SHORTS the circuit (the smaller the circut the more likely)....AND it induces current in electronics. The result of which certainly could be widespread fires depending on the energies involved.
cantdrive85
3.3 / 5 (6) May 05, 2014
This would cause fires in almost every house in the modern world. Every cell phone, house phone, house with wiring next to wood or plastic, airplane, car or boat with enough feet of wiring will overheat and emit toxic smoke at the very least. Imagine being in an office building when suddenly all of the lights start glowing brighter as every electronic piece in earshot goes haywire as it screams random sounds, glows, and then erupts in black choking smoke. Smoke alarms would be just one more melting and smoking hazard.
Barbara Streisand hysterical hyperbole. Current can flow only in a circuit.

You miss this one from last week that explains how space weather can induce currents on Earth?
http://phys.org/n...her.html
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.7 / 5 (6) May 05, 2014
"We need to be prepared."

-Famous last words.

Funny, we can appreciate the need for proaction in the face of natural threats, but fail to see that the threat from human enemies is just as dangerous and just as inevitable.


Your point being? Build huge armies, create a new arms race and launch pre-emptive strikes? Or what?
Naw youre right. Im sure these guys are entirely reasonable.

"An Islamic extremist leader has threatened to sell the 276 teenage girls his terror group abducted from a school in northeast Nigeria three weeks ago.

"In a videotape screened by the Associated Press Monday, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau claimed responsibility for the April 15 kidnappings for the first time. He also threatened to attack more schools and take additional girls.

"I abducted your girls," said the leader of Boko Haram, which means "Western education is sinful."

-Of course back in the 1100s the knights hospitaller were doing the same thing so it must be all right.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (4) May 05, 2014
Good thing boko haram doesnt have EMP

"WASHINGTON – National security experts have expressed alarm over the announcement by Iran that it will position its warships off the coast of the United States, from where they could launch a nuclear warhead to explode at high altitude to create an electromagnetic pulse."

-or they might want to steal our daughters as well. Again, it is wise to stock heaven with young virgins as allah cannot just make them out of dust or thin air can he?
adave
5 / 5 (3) May 05, 2014
The basis of the article said prepare for the failure of our electrical system. That means food, water, fire and medicines. One good shot from the sun and the transformers have to be built in place resulting in a recovery time of 4 to 10 years. Search, solar carrington event repair time electrical grid. A Faraday shield will protect sensitive electronics but not the infrastructure.
ThomasQuinn
1 / 5 (2) May 06, 2014
This would cause fires in almost every house in the modern world. Every cell phone, house phone, house with wiring next to wood or plastic, airplane, car or boat with enough feet of wiring will overheat and emit toxic smoke at the very least. Imagine being in an office building when suddenly all of the lights start glowing brighter as every electronic piece in earshot goes haywire as it screams random sounds, glows, and then erupts in black choking smoke. Smoke alarms would be just one more melting and smoking hazard.
Barbara Streisand hysterical hyperbole. Current can flow only in a circuit.


Sounds like someone here isn't familiar with the Carrington Event...
ryggesogn2
2 / 5 (4) May 06, 2014
AGW is much more of an immediate threat?

"Generating Power Stations: Burned out (and in one case apparently burned down)
▪ Underground power lines: Fused
▪ Above ground power lines: Insulators burned out
▪ Long distance telephone lines: Shut down (spark gap devices break down).
▪ 1962-era electronics: Destroyed"
http://www.google...qWd98xkA
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.8 / 5 (5) May 06, 2014
Your point being? Build huge armies, create a new arms race and launch pre-emptive strikes? Or what?
See barakn and all stupified euro downraters, let me expose the extent of your shocking misperceptions.

I posted that Boko haram story as an EXAMPLE of proaction. Educating women gives tgem some control over their lives, including rewarding alternatives to child-bearing.

The surviving religions prevailed because they were most successful at outgrowing and overrunning their enemies. Without western proaction they will quickly outgrow their resources, destabilize regions, take over countries, and directly threaten YOU. They always have, when given the chance.
Cont>
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (6) May 06, 2014
"Brunei, a conservative country where alcohol is banned and Muslim courts already govern family affairs, began phasing in its version of Shariah that allows for penalties such as amputation for theft and stoning for adultery. Most of the punishments can be applied to non-Muslims, who account for about one-third of the 440,000 people in the oil-rich country."

-The subjugation of women for the purpose of maximizing growth is integral to sharia law. Without proaction, your compliance is inevitable. Without proaction the world of the future will be rife with conflict, misery, and oppression.

A new dark age.

"A divided Supreme Court ruled Monday that legislative bodies such as city councils can begin their meetings with prayer, even if it plainly favors a specific religion... Ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since this Nation was founded..."

-Back then women couldn't vote and negros were slaves. Because the bible condoned it.
barakn
3.7 / 5 (6) May 06, 2014
Just because you want me to wig out on Islam doesn't mean I have to. Racism and bigotry are writhing around just under the surface of your skin, and it's ugly.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) May 08, 2014
Just because you want me to wig out on Islam doesn't mean I have to. Racism and bigotry are writhing around just under the surface of your skin, and it's ugly.
So because I find boko haram abhorrent and think that it should be destroyed, this makes me a racist?? More evidence that your thought processes are severely fucked.

"As the Obama administration on Wednesday began preparing to deploy a team of military and civilian advisers to aid in the search for abducted Nigerian schoolgirls, members of Congress pressed for a more muscular response to the militant Islamist group that carried out the mass kidnapping last month... About 300 people were killed by militants in Gamboru Ngala, a town near the border with Cameroon"

"British special forces have joined an international effort to rescue nearly 300 schoolgirls"

-And the fact that you equate groups such as these with mainstream islam is repulsive to most people.

I am an antireligionist. This does not make me a bigot.

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