I don’t watch a heap of news, so I was surprised to hear that people are expecting 2012 to end thanks to a massive solar flare as a result of the oncoming solar maximum. Thankfully, even as I heard about it, I was reliably informed by scientists from NASA that such an event is a ‘physical impossibility’.
The threat of a “killer solar flare” as NASA has dubbed the worries is virtually impossible, as NASA scientists note that “there simply isn’t enough energy in the sun to send a killer fireball 93 million miles to destroy Earth.”
Nice to know, really. Though, you’d wonder at that, considering it’s, well, you know, the sun.
But with the solar cycle ramping up to the latest solar maximum, you have to remember that planet Earth has been enduring these cycles for … ever. In fact, if you’ve over the age of 11, you’ve already lived through such a solar maximum and, well, we’re all still here.
Side note – the conspiracy theorists linking the solar maximum/”killer solar flare” with the end of the Mayan calendar and our impending 2012 doom should have done their research a little better: the maximum isn’t expected to peak until the end of 2013, early 2014.
Now, let’s be fair; space weather can affect our planet. While the heat from a solar flare can’t make it all the way out to us on Earth, the electromagnetic radiation can, and does. Once reaching our atmosphere, the electromagnetic radiation “can temporarily alter the upper atmosphere creating disruptions with signal transmission from, say, a GPS satellite to Earth causing it to be off by many yards.”
Even more disruptive is the possibility of a coronal mass ejection, also known as a CME, clever hey? These solar explosions expel bursts of particles and electromagnetic fluctuations into our planet’s atmosphere where they can induce electric fluctuations at ground level that might have the power to blow out transformers in power grids.
A CME could also blow out a satellite’s internal workings.
Now sure, this provides a hazard in our very technologically-dependent world, where every other phone has a GPS device and the ability to read a map has suddenly become extinct. But, as NASA notes, “it is a problem the same way hurricanes are a problem. One can protect oneself with advance information and proper precautions.”
NASA, NOAA, and agencies throughout the world provide warnings of impending CME’s or other threats to electric companies, spacecraft operators, and airline pilots, long before they reach Earth, so that something can be done. And while we can always better improve our predicting abilities, and have done so over the past few decades, worrying about “killer solar flares” does nobody any good.
Except for me, the writer, who gets to tell you why you shouldn’t worry about “killer solar flares”.