The Sun Is Going To Eat The Earth

by mike on June 7, 2010

in Science

… or… just toast it a bit.

I just saw this article at Nasa’s website today: “As the Sun Awakens, NASA Keeps a Wary Eye on Space Weather” (but it really should have been named more appropriately as “Get Ready for Real Sudden Climate Change.”

Here are the most important points:

“The sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and in the next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity.”

“A century-class solar storm, the Academy warned, could cause twenty times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina.”

The rest of the article goes on to describe how our only protection is a number of satellites that were launched for other purposes, but are now being used to monitor solar weather.  Yes.  Weather from the sun.

To get an idea of the magnitude of these solar storms, you really must watch the video at this April 27th, 2010 article.  You will see billions of tons of magnetized plasma being launched from the surface, covering about 100,000 km, and falling back to the surface as coronal rain.  (Here’s a shot of one that was 200,000 km high.)  Keep in mind that the diameter of the earth is, in comparison, a paltry 12,742 km.  That arc of plasma could easily jump over several earths.  But wait, there’s more.  The temperature of this plasma?  After ejection, about 60,000 Kelvin.  That will melt your face really, really fast.

“But,” you say, “that’s still 93 million miles away from us, it’ll never reach us!”  Correct, the plasma itself won’t but the solar wind shockwave will hit the Earth about 24-36 hours later.   And that will interact with the Earth’s magnetic field which in turn will affect just about anything that runs on electricity.

“But… the chances of that happening are small!  It hasn’t happened yet!”  Incorrect.  It’s already happened several times, as recently as 1989, when it knocked out the power grids in most of Quebec.  And it’s not just a flicker — the solar storm can last 24-48 hours or several days.

What protects us from this?  That collection of satellites referenced in the first NASA article above, which can give us advanced warning about 30 minutes before we get hit.   Nice.  Just enough time to hide in your bomb shelter (you have one, right?) and pray that the ground above you, the lead shielding and the cement absorb the radiation spilling down from the sun.

Does anyone know where I can get a bottle of 10,000 SPF sun block?

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