Killer solar flare will scorch the Earth after 2012?
It was the “Knowing” movie (directed by Alex Proyas, starring Nicolas Cage) released in 2009 after which this doomsday scenario gained much popularity.
In short, the movie tells a story of a professor and astrophysicist, who discovers that the Earth is doomed to be burned by a massive solar flare. The cataclysm depicted there coincide with the solar flares 2012 doomsday theory, which many people find the most scientifically plausible.
You might be asking now:
- Is there a prediction of a killer solar flare on December 21, 2012?
- Is there any possibility of a huge solar flare to occur in 2012?
- Should we fear solar flare in 2012?
- Can we expect increased solar activity in 2012 and a massive solar storm 2012?
Solar flare: explosion in the solar atmosphere, resulting in eruption of huge amounts of solar mass, heated plasma and bursts of accelerated particles.
Immediately after solar flare eruption, electrons, ions, and atoms are ejected in the form of clouds through the corona into space.
Solar flares produce radiation at all wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum; from radio waves to gamma rays. However, most of the energy produced falls outside the visual range, hence the majority of solar flares are not visible to the naked eye and must be observed with special instruments.
In late August of 1859 occured the strongest solar storm recorded, called the Carrington Event or Carrington Solar Flare.
Richard Carrington (1826-1875) - an English amateur astronomer; conducted observations of solar flares and sunspot activity which helped understand Sun's influence upon the Earth.
The solar storm and CME of 1859 caused aurorae of unusual brilliance, which were observed over North and South America, Asia, Australia and Europe. It damaged some telegraph lines, but otherwise there were no vulnerable electronic technologies to be affected then.
Sunspots: planet-sized islands of magnetism on the surface of the Sun; they are sources of solar flares, CME (coronal mass ejections) and strong UV radiation.
CME (coronal mass ejection): massive burst of solar wind, releasing plasma and a stream of highly energetic particles, primarily electrons and protons.
- What could a solar flare do to Earth?
On March 9, 1989 a giant solar flare erupted, accompanied by subsequent Coronal Mass Ejection.
What happened next, wasn't really expected. Three and a half days after the big solar flare eruption, on March 13, 1989, that single event provoked geomagnetic storms within Earth's atmosphere, disrupting electric power transmission for 9 hours in Quebec, Canada. Power blackouts affected 6 million people.
Among other effects of that memorable intense solar storm was the occurrence of extremely intense auroras at the poles. Over America the aurora could be seen as far south as Texas.
But more important was the fact, that some satellites lost control for several hours. NASA's TDRS-1 communication satellite recorded over 250 anomalies caused by the increased particles flowing into its sensitive electronics. GOES weather satellite communications were interrupted causing weather images to be lost.
Especially indicative for those concerned with future economic predictions might be another event, which occured in the same year. Solar storm of August 1989 caused a halt of all trading on Toronto's stock market. Luckily, this time the most severe conseqences of the event were local and the global economy wasn't significantly affected.
- What would happen, if there was an unusually high solar activity in near future (2012 and beyond)?
- Is the occurence of a deadly super solar storm 2012 possible?
In 2006 the National Center for Atmospheric Research warned that the next solar cycle would be extraordinarily strong.
“The next sunspot cycle will be 30% to 50% stronger than the previous one” (of 2001) - said M.Dikpati (NCAR). Therefore, it could be the most intense solar maximum in fifty years.
This prediction was based on a “conveyor belt” theory of the Sun's inner energy transmission processes.
Sun's conveyor belt is a current of electrically conducting gas, which flows in a loop between the Sun's equator and the poles. In theory knowing its path, speed and other properties should allow us to better predict sunspot minima and maxima.
2012 doomsday believers say: during solar maximum we can expect geothermal upheaval, large earthquakes, climate change and sea levels rising.
Yet before we ultimately link solar maxima with “catastrophic events”, we should acknowledge a few facts:
- the biggest geomagnetic storm ever recorded (17 September 1941) happened close to solar minimum
- large earthquakes also occur at low sunspot activity (research of dr. Richard B. Stothers, Goddard Institute/NASA)
- cosmic rays increase during a solar minimum (scientists suggest, that the Sun's magnetic field protects the solar system from cosmic radiation; at minimum activity magnetic field is also weaker and more cosmic radiation penetrates)
And there's more: three years after the NCAR report, in 2009, NOAA released a new report, which predicts that the solar maximum will occur not in 2012, but in 2013, and it might be weaker than previously predicted with relatively low number of sunspots.
Since then, however, NASA has revised and updated its Solar Cycle 24* predictions at least two times. Partially because of this, there are now many conflicting views around on the issue of solar activity 2012.
24th Solar Cycle seems to begin a little later than it was thought, but it has already surprised scientists with a dozen of X-class solar flares (they're the strongest types) until March 2012. Almost all of these solar flares were followed by a CME release, which could be dangerous for us, if we didn't have a natural magnetic field protection around our planet (or if they were yet a bit stronger, directed precisely at Earth and if we weren't forewarned by scientists and media).
This suggests we shouldn't be too confident in the accuracy of the earlier solar activity models and predictions based strictly on them.
Solar Cycle 24 - 24th solar cycle since the year 1755, when recording of solar sunspot activity began.
Solar activity maximum in this cycle is expected to occur in late 2012, on to 2013.
Newest estimations tell of it possibly lasting even until early 2014.
It's true that we're still learning the underlying physics of the sunspot cycle and we don't fully understand it yet. But this does not immediately add to doomsayers' credibility.
Significant space weather activity can occur at any time during the solar cycle. A solar flare can erupt during solar minimum, just as during maximum.
In light of this, the year 2012 looks no more special than any other.
For understadable reasons though, many readers ask questions:
- Could solar storm affect the Earth?
- Will solar flares affect cell phones & GPS?
Some even formulate them in this way:
- Will solar storm hit Earth in 2012?
- Will solar flares kill us?
- What will solar storm do to us and Earth?
Solar flare emits large amounts of X-ray, but the strongest one can also throw CME in our direction.
X-ray hitting our atmosphere is absorbed in its outermost layer called the ionosphere. The interaction with atmospheric gases results in electron production, which may cause interference with the radio waves disrupting global communications.
X-rays travel at the speed of light, which means they reach the Earth in about 8 minutes.
The Sun is 100 million miles / 150 million kilometers (1 AU; 1 Astronomical Unit) far from the Earth.
CMEs travel slower (reaching Earth in a matter of few hours, up to two days), but their effects can be more problematic. They can disrupt radio communications (radars, cell phones and GPS receivers may be affected), cause damage to satellites and power transmission lines, resulting in widespread power outages. Houses of milions of people across the whole world could be deprived of electricity.
If such situation would be short-term, an economic impact wouldn't be severe, despite an obvious inconvenience for many people. There could be transient food shortages and healthcare could be affected more or less, but most of the hospitals do have own power generators, so at worst they would have to rely temporarily on emergency power supply.
However, if this would be for a prolonged period of time, it could pose serious problems, like persisting scarcity of water and food, lack of healthcare, halted operation of major institutions and banks, which, by starting a true “domino effect”, could even possibly lead to a major economic breakdown in the developed countries.
It's not that hard to imagine the panic, that would arise, if such scenario would occur, catching the unprepared humanity by surprise. Of course, nobody sane would want it to happen - neither in 2012, nor at any other time. But it becomes clear now, that we should take care of our living environment (and of our very selves - in terms of increasing our knowledge and general skills) before anything extraordinary will happen. And some scientists warn us, that it could happen... very soon.
- So, what can we do about this?
Obviously we can't stop space weather anomalies, but we can protect power facilities, transmission lines and emergency services' systems. To some extent, electronic devices in satellites will be still vulnerable to the after-effects of an exceptionally strong solar storm.
However, predicting “worst-case” scenarios, but also expanding our knowledge of the Sun's inner workings and what our star's cycles of increased activity may imply for Earth, sufficient time for a reaction and well-coordinated efforts play a major role in eventual damage reduction. We can (and do) monitor every solar event.
To quote NASA:
Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), the twin STEREO probes, the five THEMIS probes, Hinode, ACE, Wind, TRACE, AIM, TIMED, Geotail and others are studying the Sun and its effects on Earth 24/7.
Despite the scientifically substantiated likelihood of increasing solar activity toward the end of 2012, through 2013 and up to 2014, we should acknowledge, that:
- there is no scientific prediction of a killer solar flare in 2012, scorching half of the Earth in an instant
- there is no evidence our Sun could produce a "Knowing"-type solar flare anytime soon
Leaving aside “Hollywood”-based or prophecy-inspired doomsday 2012 scenarios, let's focus on more realistic consequences of solar flare eruption in near future and look at ways to prevent the negative effects of solar storm in a more individual sense.
- What to do to survive 2012 solar flares / how to survive solar storm 2012?
- will solar flares be catastrophic in 2012?
We can't be absolutely certain as to whether our life-giving (and life-taking, as some would add) nearest star, the Sun, will be relatively calm during the rest of the year 2012, or if solar activity in 2012 will rather surprise us with much more violent eruptions and sudden bursts of plasma and increased radiation.
We have experienced a hint of it in March 2012, though luckily the after-effects on Earth weren't catastrophic this time. It turned out so mainly because the outburst of the solar wind plasma wasn't exactly aimed at Earth (as of this writing only a few satellites have temporarily lost connection with Earth and there were some minor local power blackouts reported, due to the increased particle flow from the Sun itself interacting with electrical energy transmitted over long power lines).
But of course, it could happen again (in fact many times before early 2014) and one day we may have much less luck in terms of released solar energy direction.
Keeping all this in mind, we see, that there may be more to the subject of solar flares 2012 and possible problems arising from it, especially when we consider our dependence on electric power transmitted over long distances and ever-increasing usage of relatively vulnerable silicon structure technology, on which all the basic building blocks (diodes, transistors, integrated circuits) in every electronic device we use today are based on.
Knowing, that we may expect more “surprises” before the end of the year 2012 (toward the unfamous December 21, 2012, specifically), what can we do about it - how should we act now?
As stated previously, expanding our knowledge of all the possible scenarios of solar activity 2012, is the first step toward our safety during the hardest time. But even more importantly, learning how to act in case of an emergency situation (within which learning survival skills and of arranging alternative, independent power sources fall perfectly) may prove to be invaluable investment for the tough times ahead.
Only then can we feel really safe, when our knowledge is sufficient
- Increase your knowledge on the after-effects of solar flares on Earth, humans and electronics
- Read about the effects of solar radiation on humans
- Learn what to do in case of an emergency situation - learn basic survival skills
Will solar storms happen in 2012?
Will big & dangerous solar flare erupt in 2012?
Is this exactly what is supposed to happen on December 21, 2012?
Doomsayers - but also some scientists, including those from NASA - warn us:
“Almost certainly the strength of solar storms will increase toward the end of 2012”