Last Thursday the sun produced an X1.9 rated solar flare that narrowly missed Earth. Although it wasn’t aimed directly at us, about 45 minutes after leaving the sun it was still powerful enough to disrupt radio communications. Now, that same area responsible for producing the X-class flare may pose a direct threat to Earth.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center says that the region on the sun known as AR11339 and affectionately called the “Benevolent Monster” will set its sights on Earth. It will move into a position that poses the largest risk to our planet around November 9th, 2011 and remain on a direct line of sight with earth for the following two (2) weeks as it rotates. Scientists at the Federal Space Weather Prediction Center say that area is the most active part of the sun since 2005. It has dozens of sunspots, including one that is the size of 17 Earths.
Federal Space Weather Prediction Center space scientist Joe Kunches said during an interview, “It’s still growing. The size is what blows me away.” Thursday’s flare wasn’t aimed at Earth. However, this active region is now slowly turning toward Earth, and scientists say it will be directly facing Earth in about five days.
That storm region will only affect Earth if it shoots off flares and they hit our planet, which doesn’t always happen with stormy areas, said Kunches. The region will be facing Earth for about two weeks as it rotates, he said.
For the past several years, the sun has been at a quiet end of its cycle and only recently has gotten more active. Solar cycles go in 11-year period. This cycle has had fewer storms than usual for this time in its cycle. But that may be changing.
Our biggest concern is with food and it will not necessarily be because of a lack of refrigeration, but an inability of our current just-in-time delivery systems to transport goods. A strong enough flare could potentially knock out the electrical components in the trucks that transport our food, the computers used to manage the inventory, and the ability for businesses to transfers payments to and from each other.
If the electrical grid in the United States were to be taken out by a solar flare we can expect months, not days, of downtime. In 1859 the fall out was limited to telegraph systems, because those were really the only electrical components of any significance. Today, our entire world is intertwined by electricity, satellites, routers, switches and computers. Even a minor disruption to some of the components, like our GPS networks, could wreck havoc.
The problem begins with the electric power grid. “Electric power is modern society’s cornerstone technology on which virtually all other infrastructures and services depend,” the report notes. Yet it is particularly vulnerable to bad space weather. Ground currents induced during geomagnetic storms can actually melt the copper windings of transformers at the heart of many power distribution systems. Sprawling power lines act like antennas, picking up the currents and spreading the problem over a wide area. The most famous geomagnetic power outage happened during a space storm in March 1989 when six million people in Quebec lost power for 9 hours.
According to the report, power grids may be more vulnerable than ever. The problem is interconnectedness. In recent years, utilities have joined grids together to allow long-distance transmission of low-cost power to areas of sudden demand. On a hot summer day in California, for instance, people in Los Angeles might be running their air conditioners on power routed from Oregon. It makes economic sense” but not necessarily geomagnetic sense. Interconnectedness makes the system susceptible to wide-ranging “cascade failures.”
To estimate the scale of such a failure, report co-author John Kappenmann of the Metatech Corporation looked at the great geomagnetic storm of May 1921, which produced ground currents as much as ten times stronger than the 1989 Quebec storm, and modeled its effect on the modern power grid. He found more than 350 transformers at risk of permanent damage and 130 million people without power. The loss of electricity would ripple across the social infrastructure with “water distribution affected within several hours; perishable foods and medications lost in 12-24 hours; loss of heating/air conditioning, sewage disposal, phone service, fuel re-supply and so on.”
Power outages would be accompanied by radio blackouts and satellite malfunctions; telecommunications, GPS navigation, banking and finance, and transportation would all be affected. Some problems would correct themselves with the fading of the storm: radio and GPS transmissions could come back online fairly quickly. Other problems would be lasting: a burnt-out multi-ton transformer, for instance, can take weeks or months to repair. The total economic impact in the first year alone could reach $2 trillion, some 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina or, to use a timelier example, a few TARPs.
Given these facts, and given the current real time conditions on the solar surface we are recommending everyone pay attention and go over those food and water supplies one more time.
Canary Island – El Heirro Update. Status remains red. Jacuzzi venting continues and has become more vigorous over the last 36 hours. Two beaches were closed today because of toxic level of gaseous emissions from venting. Two strong earthquakes were recorded today.
East Coasters should continue to monitor Earthquake Report El-Heirro for real time information.