The Possibility of Widespread Solar Disturbance

sun

An interesting report from The Register talks about NASA’s warning of a “Space Katrina” in which our communications and other electronics could be knocked out by massive solar winds.

The US military has previously warned of the risk of a “space Pearl Harbour” – a devastating surprise attack against America’s space presence, which could leave the world’s sole superpower blinded and crippled. According to the National Academy, though, the USA should forget about a space Pearl Harbour and worry instead about “a space Katrina, a storm that we should have been prepared for but were not”.

Solar storms have had significant effects in modern time:

  • In 1989, the sun unleashed a tempest that knocked out power to all of Quebec, Canada.
  • A 2003 sunstorm included 10 major solar flares over a two-week period, knocking out two Earth-orbiting satellites and crippling an instrument aboard a Mars orbiter.

And in the future, due to our becoming more dependent on satellites and other electronics for nearly every facet of our modern lives, the potential effects of any such event would undoubtedly be much greater:

Impacts would be felt on interdependent infrastructures, with, for example, potable water distribution affected within several hours; perishable foods and medications lost in about 12-24 hours; and immediate or eventual loss of heating/air conditioning, sewage disposal, phone service, transportation, fuel resupply, and so on…

Attacks in space and from space, in addition to the more common terrestrial threats we face, certainly provide plenty to keep us occupied in our preparations.

Related links:

Coming Tomorrow…

What can we do to prepare our homes and families for solar events? We’ll have a summary of potential effects as well as tips for practical preparation.

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