Saturday, July 26, 2014

Calming the Hysteria: No, Earth Wouldn't Have Been "Destroyed" Had That Flare-CME Struck

Solar flare nearly destroyed Earth 2 years ago: NASA

As usual, much of the media has to use hysteria to command attention. And so numerous media sources reported in the past few days that a monster solar flare- that erupted two years ago (July, 2012) could have "destroyed the Earth", while others asserted "we'd have been sent back to the Dark Ages."  All that, if the event had occurred a week earlier.

According to an astrophysicist from University of Colorado quoted by The New York Post:

"If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces,”

He then added:

"I have come away from our recent studies more convinced than ever that Earth and its inhabitants were incredibly fortunate that the 2012 eruption happened when it did.  If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire.”

Yes, but "line of fire" doesn't mean the end of civilization.

Sadly, much of this was based on exaggeration and hysteria.  Note I had also referenced the effects of CMEs or coronal mass ejections in earlier blogs, and the expected effects on human civilization, e.g.

Based on the above content (and other posts I've written on the subject) the Post did get this much correct:

"It’s believed a direct CME hit would have the potential to wipe out communication networks, GPS and electrical grids to cause widespread blackout.......Just 10 minutes without electricity, Internet or communication across the globe is a scary thought, and the effects of this event could last years. It would be chaos and disaster on an epic scale."

Well, uh yeah, things would get very inconvenient! Make no mistake people would likely have to do without their computers, smart phones, Ipads, Facebook, GPS systems for 6 months or so, maybe longer. The NASA release also made some rough analogies to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and "disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket" as well as "most people wouldn’t even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps.”

In other words, you'd definitely be faced with horrendous and messy issues in the wake - but "back to the Dark Ages" ? Well ok, maybe for a few months. But it would not compare to the aftermath of a nuclear war, for example, which could erupt if we were stupid enough to follow the advice of Johnno McCain and other dumbass Reeptards to "teach Putin a lesson".

But equating not having internet or smartphones or Facebook to the "dark ages" - that's a bit of exaggeration! Well, ok, maybe not given the extent to which most moderns are hooked on all these devices and pastimes.

But as I noted in the above line to do with CMEs, many of the problems that might be caused by their smacking us at the most inopportune time are soluble. For example, our power grids could be protected by the simple expedient of installing large enough resistor -capacitor systems at critical locations (e.g. near power plants or major cities)  in order to sever any CME-driven upward field aligned current connection to the grid. Recall from my basic physics blog, e;g.    that resistors act to limit current and also capacitors can do the same by collecting charge.

The problem? Major U.S. power companies don't want to assume the cost for any voluntary installations, which could run $100,000 per transformer. Hence, the grid remains unprotected against the rare - but potentially calamitous - Carrington event CME that smacks us broadside.

Government, of course, could easily provide subsidies to help pay for the C-R systems to protect the transformers, but the moron Tea Baggers infecting our nation (and one whole party)  won't hear of such a thing. They won't tolerate giving any "blank check" to government to subsidize  power companies, especially to build capacitative-resistance systems to protect our power grids. These jerks with their triangle hats still live in the 1790s, after all!

Ok, so forget the "expensive" solution above. Even a bit of help could still be available if we knew the direction of an oncoming powerful CME event and had some time to prepare. Right now such an entity exists: the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite which can measure the intensity and magnetic orientation of any CME that sweeps by it. The problem is that ACE is nearly on its last legs and a replacement monitor is needed.

Fortuitously, a fully -ready space craft that can undertake ACE's duties exists. The problem? This Deep Space Climate Observatory (or DSCOVR) sits mothballed in storage at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt,  Maryland. It sits idle because the Obama administration's $47.3 million budget request to refurbish and launch DSCOVR has been forthwith rejected by the Republican-controlled House.

So there it sits, and here we sit, on a planet becoming ever more vulnerable to the ultimate 'blowback' from  the Sun's "burps" - as Neil deGrasse Tyson called them on Bill Maher last night.

So maybe, just maybe, the Reepos really don't care if people have to do without Facebook or smartphones for a half a year, or can't flush their toilets for lack of electric power. I mean, they still haven't furnished all the money needed for the Superstorm Sandy victims, many of whom still sit in darkened homes without electricity or running water.

Maybe the Republicans would prefer that condition for the whole country!

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