What are the chances that a solar storm could cause devastating damage to Earth? (Sounds almost like a weird science fiction question, doesn't it?)
According to a new estimate published in the journal Space Weather, the chance of us being hit with an "extreme" solar flare sometime in the next 10 years is one chance in eight — about 12%.
Back in 1859, the most powerful solar storm on record wreaked havoc on what little bit of crude electrical infrastructure that existed at that time, lighting telegraph wires on fire and even causing fires in some of the telegraph offices. While residents of the northern climes are accustomed to seeing the "northern lights" during periods of solar activity, this event caused observers in Cuba to report that the night sky "appeared stained with blood." If that kind of event happened today, with our enormous dependence on an electronic infrastructure, the result would be devastating.
More recently, a solar event in March 1989 knocked out the power to millions of people in Quebec for approximately 9 hours. Experts say that a stronger storm could have catastrophic consequences. In 2008, the National Academy of Sciences reported that the United States is not prepared to "cope with the effects of a 'space weather Katrina.'"
The potential for permanent damage to power transformers and other electrical systems could cost upwards of $2 trillion to repair, and take up to 10 years for a full recovery, according to a report by the National Academy of Sciences.
So why bring up this subject now? Because right at the moment, we are in the middle of some exceptional solar storm activity that produced a huge X1 solar flare monster. Flares are classified as (weakest to strongest) B, C, M, and X. Each class has 9 sub classes ranging from 1 to 9. An X1 is not the most powerful, but is still very strong — strong enough to impact our lives on Earth.
What would it look like if a massive solar storm hit us? Well, for one thing it would look dark. It would be lights-out. And it would be quiet, with all communications shut down. Might even promote fuel saving because transportation would come to a halt.
That's all "worst case" of course, but think about what you would do if what the scientists are saying actually comes true. What alternatives would you turn to if there were no electricity in your life?
Just something to ponder…and then make plans for. Because the space scientists are saying it's not a matter of "if" — it's only a matter of "when."