Science: 12 Percent Chance of Devastating Solar Flare Affecting Earth Before 2020

By 03.01.12

The last time the world saw such a widespread aurora borealis was 1859. This future event could well be the event of a lifetime for another, far-less beautiful reason: The solar flare that would set off the dazzling sky display could also leave countless people in the dark by frying power grids, communication networks and crucial satellites.

It could add up to trillions of dollars in damage once the sky show is all over, followed by a rough recovery that could take years, according to a 2008 analysis of such an event’s impact.

Solar flare activity goes through periods of both high and low activity. These next 10 years will be one of action. And if there’s a flare up matching the magnitude of the one that took place in 1859, we’re in for a stunning visual display – and probably some serious trouble.

The so-called Carrington Event on Sept. 1, 1859, was epic — it was the largest on record — and damaged the telecommunications infrastructure of its day, setting telegraph stations ablaze and damaging their communication networks. But it was the show in the sky that proved unforgettable.

The New York Times described the skies in Manhattan in breathtaking terms:

“On Sunday night the heavens were arrayed in a drapery more gorgeous than they have been for years. … Such was the aurora, as thousands witnessed it from housetops and from pavements. Many imagined they heard rushing sounds as if Aeolus [a mythological Greek god] had let loose winds.”

In Washington, D.C, the glare in the sky was “sufficiently vivid to call out some of the fire companies,” the Evening Star wrote at the time.

As we’ve becoming increasingly dependent on technology, an similar event would obviously be life-altering. So what can we do to prepare for this, you’re probably wondering.

Unfortunately, not a hell of a lot.

The potential dangers might be significantly less, since power companies are aware of such problems and can take action to mitigate them.

For instance, companies may store power in areas where little damage is expected or bring on additional lines to help with power overloads. This is assuming, of course, that they are given enough warning as to the time and location of a solar storm’s impact on the Earth. Satellites relatively close to Earth are required to measure the exact strength and orientation of a storm.

“It’s like being able to see a cyclone coming but not knowing the wind speed until it hits your boat 50 miles off the coast,” Rutledge said.

Enjoy the rest of your day, gang. Live it to its fullest.

[H/T: Wired Science]

TAGS20/20apocolypsebad newsScienceSolar Flare

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