Friday, May 24, 2013

You Have Been Warned

     Our society today has grown dependent on its communication systems, its guidance/navigation systems, its electronically-monitored economic system...The list goes on and on.
Coronal Mass Ejection
     One effect of a direct hit by a CME (coronal mass ejection) would be similar to the blast of a nuclear bomb in the lower atmosphere, causing electro-magnetic disruption of power supplies that would pull down land-line as well as mobile phone systems, internet and cable communications. The complex electronics of orbiting communications satellites would be destroyed, resulting in malfunctioning or complete shut down of global positioning and aircraft navigation systems. The orbit of satellites would begin to degrade, eventually leading to their re-entry into and 'burning up' in the atmosphere.

     High altitude air travel (such as most long distance commercial flights) would result in significantly increased exposure of passengers and crew to ionizing radiation, especially if the flight were to cross over either of the earth's poles where the magnetosphere (part of earth's radiation shield) has been thinned, warped or even removed by the pulse of the CME.
     Any astronaut unfortunate enough to be in orbit (even within the spaceship or space station) would be exposed to even more radiation, likely a lethal dose.

     On the ground, the electrical grid would see transmission relays explode, spontaneous ignition of flammable material (ex telephone poles) and melting of metal wiring.
Disruption of the Magnetosphere by a CME
     Another perhaps more far-fetched result of a direct hit by a CME is the 'flipping' of earth's own magnetic poles and the triggering of wide-spread volcanic eruption throughout the world.

     The pulse of the coronal mass ejection would not be felt on the side of the earth facing away from the sun (that is, the night side of the planet). But the exposed side of the globe, if the blast is strong enough to (temporarily) sweep the magnetosphere aside, would receive extreme doses of ionizing radiation, destroying the membranes of cell bodies and disrupting DNA, killing any and all unprotected living thing that may be in its path.

     *Solar radiation: subject of research for the novel  The Tao of the Thirteenth God - Amazon Kindle.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

When the Sun Grows Angry

     The 'solar cycle' reflects magnetic changes in our star, seen in the change of position as well as magnetic polarity of sunspots. It was discovered and first described by German astronomer Samuel Heinrich Schwabe in 1843. This cycle waxes and wanes every 11 (earth) years. The last solar cycle (cycle 23, by human count) peaked in 2000-2002 then decayed to its low in 2008. A new cycle (solar cycle 24) began in that year. The 'solar maximum' is expected to occur sometime in 2012 (2013?).
Samuel Heinrich Schwabe
     A 'solar maximum' implies increased solar magnetic activity - more sunspot changes, more solar flares and possibly a 'solar storm'. To what degree a solar storm affects our planet depends on the severity of the storm itself as well as whether the storm on the sun takes place on an area that directly faces the earth or at an angle, either resulting in a 'direct hit' of our planet or simply a glancing blow.
     In early 2012, a mild solar storm hit our planet resulting in brilliant auroras at both poles - electromagnetic radiation of a benign nature that showed us once again the beauty of nature (see post: Fire in the Sky).
Solar  Flares ('Storms')
     Solar storms launch energy into space in three pulses: 1. electromagnetic radiation (much like an atmospheric nuclear blast) that results in effects on the earth's magnetosphere causing remarkable auroras and, in more extreme cases, warping or thinning of our protective shield. 2. proton (ionizing) radiation from deeper inside the sun. Space-bound astronauts, unprotected by our atmosphere may be at risk of exposure to these 'deadly rays'. 3. 'Coronal Mass Ejection' (CME) - expulsion of the sun's plasma that strikes our planet.

'Coronal Mass Ejection' (CME)
     These pulses can travel at speeds of up to 4 million miles per hour. With the earth only 93 million miles from its star, that gives us less than 25 minutes once a first pulse is launched!
     In the year 2012, our planet was hit by severe solar storms. During the week of March 5, 2012, the earth was witness to increased solar 'rage'. But a big one? Has our lonely blue planet ever been struck by a large CME? A direct hit? What happened?

     *Solar radiation: subject of research for the novel The Tao of the Thirteenth God - Amazon Kindle.