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NASA Warns 2013 Solar Flare Could Knock Out Electricity Worldwide
NASA scientist Dr Fisher, a leading helio-physicist, warned back in 2010 of an approaching space storm predicted for 2013 that could potentially wipe out electricity and communications for hours – other scientists believe it could even last for months.
Now, with 2013 rapidly approaching time is running out for governments to put precautionary measures in place, to minimise the effects that such a storm could have.
So, is this the end of life as we know it? Don’t start panicking yet – those worrying of an impending apocalypse will be glad to know that a solar storm is perfectly normal, and happens every 11 years. Probably, you didn’t even notice the last time it happened, or the time before that.
The problem with this solar storm is that two events are going to coincide – the 11-yearly peak in the number of solar flares, and the 22-yearly peak in the Sun’s magnetic energy cycle.
Still, the two coincide every 22 years. So, why the big deal this time round, you may be wondering?
Solar flares are perfectly normal, and usually don’t affect the Earth. Image via NASA Goddard
22 years before the expected storm of 2013 it was 1991. The Internet had not yet been made available to the general public, telephones were things you had in your house, not your pocket, and people actually still read maps when they needed to go somewhere.
A huge solar storm such as this one however, predicted to be the most powerful one in half a century, will send out a burst of electromagnetic radiation and energetic particles that can, temporarily, wreak havoc with our upper atmosphere.
This in turn affects things such as signal transmission from satellites to GPS devices, and electrical fluctuations could blow transformers in power grids and cause mass electrical outages.
The use of technology has exploded in the past ten to fifteen years. Now, everyone has a mobile phone, a laptop, the Internet... even our emergency services rely on GPS to get to accident sites quickly, and aeroplanes too use GPS to navigate around the world.
The Northern Lights are one of the more welcome effects of solar flares. Image via Beverly & Pack
So the effects of a solar storm will be much more felt now than they were a couple of decades ago. Back in 1958, when the last storm of a similar scale occurred, the general public only knew something odd was happening when the Northern Lights were spotted three times in Mexico.
Now, those very same people could find themselves without the things they’ve come to rely on so heavily, such as the Internet. Even worse, modern and high-tech hospital equipment could stop working, putting lives at risk around the globe.
It’s not that the solar storm itself will be any different to usual – it’s just how it affects us that will be changing.
What do you think, is the 2013 solar storm something we should be worrying about?
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