Is Earth Doomed by Sun Plasma? Our Bad Astronomy Expert Weighs In

By Rachel Cernansky | April 2, 2009 11:44 am

solar.jpgLast week’s Weird Science Roundup included a NASA-funded report warning if a glob of the sun’s plasma were to escape and enter the earth’s magnetic shield, it could disrupt our entire power grid… and basically cause the end of the world as we know it.

So just how credible is this theory? We asked our own Phil Plait for his thoughts on the matter, which, alarmingly, did not include it being a totally bogus possibility. Here’s what he had to say:

Actually, while they play up the worst cases, what they say is not totally out of bounds. I’m not sure about the number of deaths quoted, but the scenarios are plausible. Our grid is running nearly at capacity, and a huge DC current dumped into them from a geomagnetically induced current could overload a huge number of transformers. The 1989 Quebec event was a taste of how that could happen.

From what I understand, North America is more sensitive to this because of the huge granite slab that composes most of the continental plate; it sets up huge currents underground when the magnetic field of the Earth gets slammed from a CME from the Sun, and that induces current in the gird, and bang.

I think 2012 is unlikely for big solar events, though not impossible. The biggest solar events tend to happen a year or two after the peak of the cycle, and the peak should be in 2012 though maybe later; this cycle seems to be having a hard time getting started.

Probably not the answer you want, but there you go. A lot of folks are trying to get the power companies and governments aware of this. I don’t know what their progress has been.

Well, on the bright side, it makes the economy seem a bit less worth worrying about.

Image: SOHO Consortium / ESA / NASA

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Aliens Therefrom
  • Uncle Al

    Scenario: On 21 December 2012 ISS FUBAR asstronaughts enjoy a big supper of NASA Boston baked bean blinis. The ISS FUBAR toilet goes ballistic, shorting out 32,528 ft^2 of solar arrays, launching an electromagnetic pulse that shatters the magnetosphere as the Earth below is triggered into overdue magnetic pole inversion, ending the geomagnetic field for decades. The quietest sun since 1913 belches the largest coronal mass ejection in history (dwarfing 1859), equatorially, smiting the Earth at 2700 km/s like a stellar Mjöllnir. Only the Carbon Tax on Everything can Save Our Children!

    Simultaneously (our time) Betelgeus goes supernova . It would have sent Kip Thorne to Sweden in 2013 if First World civilization had persisted. Folks at 03, 19,21.6 RA 03, 22,13 DEC (Kappa Ceti) 29.9 lightyears distant, flip the switch on their giant new SETI array 35 years later (our time) and wonder why the galaxy is silent in our direction after the optical signal was sent by Sol.


    A massive solar flare is a potential armageddon scenario!


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