A subject I’ve written on a number of times in the past (see A Flare For The Dramatic, Solar Storms, CMEs & FEMA, A Carrington Event) is in the news once more, with officials gathering in Washington D.C. this week to discuss the potential impact of a major solar storm.
Despite recent forecasts for diminished solar activity in over the next few decades (see Scientists Predicting A Quieter Sun) it is worth noting that the largest solar flare recorded in the past 500 years – the infamous Carrington Event - occurred during a relatively weak solar cycle (#10).
Since I’ve covered these issues in the recent past, I’ll simply give you the link to the NASA Science News story, and step out of the way.
June 21, 2011: In Sept. 1859, on the eve of a below-average1 solar cycle, the sun unleashed one of the most powerful storms in centuries. The underlying flare was so unusual, researchers still aren't sure how to categorize it. The blast peppered Earth with the most energetic protons in half-a-millennium, induced electrical currents that set telegraph offices on fire, and sparked Northern Lights over Cuba and Hawaii.
This week, officials have gathered at the National Press Club in Washington DC to ask themselves a simple question: What if it happens again?
Modern power grids are vulnerable to solar storms. Photo credit: Martin Stojanovski
"A similar storm today might knock us for a loop," says Lika Guhathakurta, a solar physicist at NASA headquarters. "Modern society depends on high-tech systems such as smart power grids, GPS, and satellite communications--all of which are vulnerable to solar storms."