You Are My Sunshine!

So, I got a comment suggesting that we discuss the recent talk about solar flares. First let’s define exactly “what is a solar flare”. According to NASA, a solar flare is an intense burst of radiation coming from the release of magnetic energy associated with sunspots. Flares are our solar system’s largest explosive events. They are seen as bright areas on the sun and they can last from minutes to hours.

Why is this a topic of concern? What’s got this on everyone’s mind? Well, first some sun background. The sun operates in what is known as a solar or sunspot cycle. Every 11 years (approximately, can be as few as 9 or as many as 14) the sun reverses the direction of its magnetic field which causes an increase in sunspots. Reference the definition above regarding how sunspots are associated with solar flares. So…you guessed it…we are coming up in 2012 on one of the 11 year marks for the reversal of the sun’s magnetic fields. And speculation is going on about whether or not this year will be a doosey such as the one that happened in 1859 known as the Carrington Event. There is an interesting article at NASA Science/Science News regarding the history of the Carrington Event as well as several other documented solar flare events (and some great references as well) so take a few and look this over:

And so what is all the fuss about? Because recent displays of northern lights have been so brilliant, scientists are concerned that this next solar maximum could be devastating to our electronic power grid and communications systems. In recent years, these events have not cause major problems; however, recent powerful solar flares have scientists concerns that the upcoming reversal of the sun’s magnetic field could mimic the Carrington Event. If you’ve read the above article, you understand that in the Carrington Event, the telegraph system was devastated…if this year’s even were to mimic that level of havoc, because of our technology dependent world, we could face total devastation to our electrical grids, satellites, and all electronics in general. Think giant EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse).

Now what concerns me is that depending on what you read about this year’s possible “perfect solar storm”, you can walk away scared as hell or with the belief that this is another Y2K type of hype. Want to see the two sides of the coin? Check out these two videos to witness the extreme differences in opinion.

Column A) “We’re so screwed!”

Column B) “Calm down and take it easy”

The other things that gets me is from a realistic standpoint, these two videos are from what most of us would consider a generally trustworthy sources. Column A came from the History Channel and Column B is from NASA. So…what are your thoughts?

My closing thought is this. I’m here preaching preparedness. The thing to consider is if it could happen in 1859, it can happen again. That doesn’t mean it will be this year or even the next 11 year cycle. But preparedness is something you should be passing down to your little ones and loved ones for generations to come. We don’t know what is coming in the next year but I do know this…a loss of our electrical technology, specifically the electrical grid would devastate this country socially. Not because life without electricity is impossible, but because we, as a nation, are not prepared to live without it. Are you? Take all of my past examples of “What would you do?” and consider what everyone else would do…everyone who is unprepared, everyone who doesn’t have ANY food or water stored. A total breakdown in societal norms and expectations would result and eventually utter chaos and violence would prevail. So again, be ready for your family but equally important, be ready to deal with those who aren’t.

I”m ready to discuss this more, so write in and let me know which video you’re aligning with. Some of you have backgrounds and experience in this stuff…speak up.

9 responses to “You Are My Sunshine!

  • Joseph Travers

    That was a stunning post! Blinding rational, thanks for the info and chance to think.

  • SA

    I fall into more of the “solar flair” category ifyouknowwhatimean. I’m fairly well informed on the issue for a layperson and frankly am more concerned about a couple of atmospheric EMP detonations than a catastrophic solar flare.

  • David

    The truth is probably somewhere in between as each group has its own agenda. History Channel is an entertainment channel, and has to sell hype, while NASA will want to calm people down regardless of reality.

    That being said, one thing that most people miss is that 18+ hours gives the power grid guys time to shut things down and take generators and such offline if it gets ugly. That’s important, because it takes 18-36 months to get new generators (generally from Germany). If we lose a bunch of generators in one regional area, they’re in for a world of hurt, especially during the winter. The reality is that we did a Berlin Airlift, but a Northeast Airlift for millions just couldn’t happen.

    The other good news is that a solar flare increases the size of the atmosphere (this is what killed Skylab back in the late 70s). That’s good for cleaning out low-flying space junk, although it also causes drag on spacecraft in low earth orbit.

    One other thought. High speed surge protectors (less than ~5 milisecond reaction time) are supposed to protect equipment against “reasonable” (whatever that means) EMP, and might work against solar flares too. Most of the higher end surge protectors are of the fast type, and are reasonably priced at Lowe’s and Home Depot. Check the specs on the back of the box next time you buy one.

    I wonder if TGIF’s folks wear 15 pieces of Solar Flair??? : )

    Great blog entry, as always. Factual and thought-provoking without the tin-hat hype. : )

  • keepbuilder

    Great comments guys. Thanks for speaking up. The whole situation makes me think of so called “studies”….seems like if you read enough you can find at least one that says just what you want it to. 🙂

  • Steve Mayka

    I am Really enjoying your information. I Just wanted to add a point I tell my clients with solar flares we have warning. Use that time if you are afraid to wrap up the items you want protected in metal or have a metal case such as a large metal military ammo box ready and put your important electronics into the box close the box and ground it.

    Also one of the reasons that the 1859 event was so effective at taking down the telegraph wires and system is that it was not grounded at all if i recall correctly, and if I am Mistaken it certainly was not grounded like we are today with 12/3 and 12/4 Romex creating a grounding web through every structure we electrify. Don’t get me wrong it is not a cure all, but it does help.

    I agree whole heartedly with your sentiment, Don’t be complacent, but don’t freak out either.

    Oh, and grounding straps on your car might not be a bad Idea.


  • Matt

    What I can add is NASA spends a lot of money building spacecraft to study the sun and solar flares. The key as mentioned before is being prepared. Not so much on a personal level, but on a larger level. Once we spot a flare we can notify spacecraft, airlines, and power grids. Once these places are notified adjustments can be made so there will not be an issue. However when one of these things is hit by a flare, big problems can arise. For example, a few years ago a satellite for satellite TVs was hit by a flare. The satellite’s guidance and control system was knocked out but the satellite was still transmitting a signal. This was not a huge problem until it started to drift into another satellite’s broadcast area. There was a real concern that the resulting interference would knock out all satellite TVs in on the west coast, during the NBA West Finals. (the Lakers were playing) Here is a link to that below.

  • keepbuilder

    y’all are awesome. Great comments. Thanks for adding your thoughts and expertise. Happy to have other perspectives and experiences on board.

  • JoeCOOP

    A Very Bad Day… Here is the story/scenario that I spoke to you about for personal preparedness and the EMP event.’

    There has been a power failure. It is a minor annoyance to you at first. Its late when you awake on a winter day. Your alarm clock did not go off. The house is chilly, and the natural-gas furance you have with its digital thermostat appears to not be working. There is no electricity for the heater fan to push warm air through the house heating ducts. It has now dawned on you that the night time tempertures are in the single digits and the day-time high will rise to the twenties but if your power is not restored by the time you return home from work it will be very cold in the house. Why has the power failed you wonder. Was it freezing rain weighing down the power lines causing them to fall and fail?

    Cold cereal and juice are your breakfast instead of your normal scrambled eggs and hot coffee. You wonder how long the food in the refrigerator will last. You skip shaving because you are running late and your electric razor needs the missing power in your house and the cold shower is out of the question. Then jumping into your car you find that it will not start. It seems completely dead, not even the radio will work. As you are getting out of your car, you notice other neighbors looking under the hood of their cars. The cold weather must have kill their batteries as well. Then you hear what must be a truck back-firing in the distance. At least someone got their vehicle started.

    You try to use your transistor radio to get some news but it will not work either which you find odd since its both AC and battery powered. It dawns on you that your kids must have swapped their dead game controller batteries for the ones in the radio. You head to the basement to dig another radio out of your old ammo box you use for a fishing tackle box. It seems to work but as you scan throught the AM and FM bands there is mostly static. You finally find one distant station that is broadcasting. The frantic news announcer is reporting on a “High-altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) over the Midwest” which has disrupted electrical power on the national grids all over the United States, Mexico, and Canada.

    Suddenly you are startled by loud, rapid-fire gunshots. They are close by, right near you neighborhood. This is going to be a very bad day… Are you prepared.

  • JoeCOOP

    Here is a great link if you are interested in space weather.

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