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On July 23, 2014 NASA released the news that earth narrowly missed being thrown into the dark ages by the largest solar storm in 150 years. The article, authored by Dr. Tony Phillips, Near Miss: The Solar Superstorm of July 2012 is posted below in its entirety.
If you have shrugged off the threat coronal mass ejections (CME’s) and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weaponry poses to earth and our survival, you will want to read this article. It’s a rare event when NASA opens up to the truth about anything that might alarm the public.
It’s worth noting that I listed out the major solar events of 2012, taken from NASA.gov, in this January, 2013 article >here< and, unless I missed it somehow, the superstorm was not even listed on NASA’s website at the time. Doing a google daterange search shows that spaceweather.com talked about it, but on July 23rd, 2012, NASA was talking about the incredible “Northern lights” from a couple of weeks earlier.
(David’s note: In fact, here’s a Google search for the 23rd-25th of July 2012 for coronal mass ejection nasa.gov:
Was it a coverup? No. Other parts of NASA.gov talked about it…namely: swc.gsfc.nasa.gov/main/20120725-7D-001 but you’d think that, what appeared at the time as the fastest CME ever recorded, would get a little more coverage from NASA. )
NASA’s recent news release sheds light on the fact that, as Preppers, a long-term approach to prepping may be the wisest approach, which is the topic of today’s post that offers links for quick access.
(David’s note: I feel that it’s important to mention that some have called this the fastest CME ever recorded. Conventional estimates are that we would normally have 2-3 days from the time a CME leaves the sun until it reaches Earth. This one took just over 14 hours and was traveling somewhere between 1800-2200 miles per second, which would be like going from LA to NYC in just over 1 second. What this means is that once the warning goes out and the balloon goes up, there’s no time left to prepare…only to execute your plan.)
July 23, 2014: If an asteroid big enough to knock modern civilization back to the 18th century appeared out of deep space and buzzed the Earth-Moon system, the near-miss would be instant worldwide headline news.
Two years ago, Earth experienced a close shave just as perilous, but most newspapers didn’t mention it. The “impactor” was an extreme solar storm, the most powerful in as much as 150+ years.
“If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces,” says Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado.
Baker, along with colleagues from NASA and other universities, published a seminal study of the storm in the December 2013 issue of the journal Space Weather. Their paper, entitled “A major solar eruptive event in July 2012,” describes how a powerful coronal mass ejection (CME) tore through Earth orbit on July 23, 2012. Fortunately Earth wasn’t there. Instead, the storm cloud hit the STEREO-A spacecraft.
“I have come away from our recent studies more convinced than ever that Earth and its inhabitants were incredibly fortunate that the 2012 eruption happened when it did,” says Baker. “If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire.
Extreme solar storms pose a threat to all forms of high-technology. They begin with an explosion–a “solar flare”—in the magnetic canopy of a sunspot. X-rays and extreme UV radiation reach Earth at light speed, ionizing the upper layers of our atmosphere; side-effects of this “solar EMP” include radio blackouts and GPS navigation errors. Minutes to hours later, the energetic particles arrive. Moving only slightly slower than light itself, electrons and protons accelerated by the blast can electrify satellites and damage their electronics. Then come the CMEs, billion-ton clouds of magnetized plasma that take a day or more to cross the Sun-Earth divide. Analysts believe that a direct hit by an extreme CME such as the one that missed Earth in July 2012 could cause widespread power blackouts, disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket. Most people wouldn’t even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps.
Before July 2012, when researchers talked about extreme solar storms their touchstone was the iconic Carrington Event of Sept. 1859, named after English astronomer Richard Carrington who actually saw the instigating flare with his own eyes. In the days that followed his observation, a series of powerful CMEs hit Earth head-on with a potency not felt before or since. Intense geomagnetic storms ignited Northern Lights as far south as Cuba and caused global telegraph lines to spark, setting fire to some telegraph offices and thus disabling the ‘Victorian Internet.”
A similar storm today could have a catastrophic effect. According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina.
Multi-ton transformers damaged by such a storm might take years to repair.
“In my view the July 2012 storm was in all respects at least as strong as the 1859 Carrington event,” says Baker. “The only difference is, it missed.”
In February 2014, physicist Pete Riley of Predictive Science Inc. published a paper in Space Weather entitled “On the probability of occurrence of extreme space weather events.” In it, he analyzed records of solar storms going back 50+ years. By extrapolating the frequency of ordinary storms to the extreme, he calculated the odds that a Carrington-class storm would hit Earth in the next ten years.
The answer: 12%.
“Initially, I was quite surprised that the odds were so high, but the statistics appear to be correct,” says Riley. “It is a sobering figure.”
In his study, Riley looked carefully at a parameter called Dst, short for “disturbance – storm time.” This is a number calculated from magnetometer readings around the equator. Essentially, it measures how hard Earth’s magnetic field shakes when a CME hits. The more negative Dst becomes, the worse the storm. Ordinary geomagnetic storms, which produce Northern Lights around the Arctic Circle, but otherwise do no harm, register Dst=-50 nT (nanoTesla). The worst geomagnetic storm of the Space Age, which knocked out power across Quebec in March 1989, registered Dst=-600 nT. Modern estimates of Dst for the Carrington Event itself range from -800 nT to a staggering -1750 nT.
In their Dec. 2013 paper, Baker et al. estimated Dst for the July 2012 storm. “If that CME had hit Earth, the resulting geomagnetic storm would have registered a Dst of -1200, comparable to the Carrington Event and twice as bad as the March 1989 Quebec blackout.”
The reason researchers know so much about the July 2012 storm is because, out of all the spacecraft in the solar system it could have hit, it did hit a solar observatory. STEREO-A is almost ideally equipped to measure the parameters of such an event.
“The rich data set obtained by STEREO far exceeded the relatively meager observations that Carrington was able to make in the 19th century,” notes Riley. “Thanks to STEREO-A we know a lot of about the magnetic structure of the CME, the kind of shock waves and energetic particles it produced, and perhaps most importantly of all, the number of CMEs that preceded it.”
It turns out that the active region responsible for producing the July 2012 storm didn’t launch just one CME into space, but many. Some of those CMEs “plowed the road” for the superstorm.
A paper in the March 2014 edition of Nature Communications by UC Berkeley space physicist Janet G. Luhmann and former postdoc Ying D. Liu describes the process: The July 23rd CME was actually two CMEs separated by only 10 to 15 minutes. This double-CME traveled through a region of space that had been cleared out by yet another CME four days earlier. As a result, the storm clouds were not decelerated as much as usual by their transit through the interplanetary medium.
“It’s likely that the Carrington event was also associated with multiple eruptions, and this may turn out to be a key requirement for extreme events,” notes Riley. “In fact, it seems that extreme events may require an ideal combination of a number of key features to produce the ‘perfect solar storm.'”
“Pre-conditioning by multiple CMEs appears to be very important,” agrees Baker.
A common question about this event is, how did the STEREO-A probe survive? After all, Carrington-class storms are supposed to be mortally dangerous to spacecraft and satellites. Yet STEREO-A not only rode out the storm, but also continued taking high-quality data throughout.
“Spacecraft such as the STEREO twins and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (a joint ESA/NASA mission) were designed to operate in the environment outside the Earth’s magnetosphere, and that includes even quite intense, CME-related shocks,” says Joe Gurman, the STEREO project scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center. “To my knowledge, nothing serious happened to the spacecraft.”
The story might have been different, he says, if STEREO-A were orbiting Earth instead of traveling through interplanetary space.
“Inside Earth’s magnetosphere, strong electric currents can be generated by a CME strike,” he explains. “Out in interplanetary space, however, the ambient magnetic field is much weaker and so those dangerous currents are missing.” In short, STEREO-A was in a good place to ride out the storm.
“Without the kind of coverage afforded by the STEREO mission, we as a society might have been blissfully ignorant of this remarkable solar storm,” notes Baker. “How many others of this scale have just happened to miss Earth and our space detection systems? This is a pressing question that needs answers.”
If Riley’s work holds true, there is a 12% chance we will learn a lot more about extreme solar storms in the next 10 years—when one actually strikes Earth.
Says Baker, “we need to be prepared.”
On April 6th, 2009 The Washington Post article, Do Solar Storms Threaten Life as We Know It? (author, Steve Tracton), summarized the situation quite succinctly in the following excerpt:
As severe as the possible effects of global warming might be, many of the worst-case impacts are not likely to occur on timescales less than a decade or so. Of perhaps more immediate concern to civilization as we know it — quite literally — is the threat posed by the expected increase in solar activity starting around 2011, which could disrupt many aspects of life that societies now take for granted and depend heavily upon for their daily existence.
Electric power grids, communications and navigation systems (including GPS), and satellites (including weather) could be damaged beyond repair for many years. The consequences could be devastating for commerce, transportation, agriculture and food stocks, fuel and water supplies, human health and medical facilities, national security, and daily life in general.
Should the 12% Odds Riely Warns of Up the Ante Of Preparedness Timelines?
Everyone must decide for themselves whether to prepare for a few weeks, a few months, a year or more, or not at all. For me, the potential for a long-term crisis made a huge impact on the direction I chose for the 23 people I’m preparing for. Instead of relying on a non-renewable fuel source to power a generator, or a chainsaw, or a camp stove, I opted for a wood-burning cook stove and heat stove and manual tools such as a tree-felling ax (rather than a chainsaw) and a manual hand pump for the well that doesn’t require a generator to collect water.
I’ll admit that I daydream about purchasing a generator and a chainsaw. What an awesome convenience! But, in my mind, they represent a short-term convenience, and like most everyone else, prep goods must be provided for with an unforgiving budget. They will need to wait until the last few cords of seasoned firewood is delivered, and another hundred jars of meat has been canned, and another 20 pounds of cheddar cheese is safely preserved in wax.
So, what about you? Instead of planning ahead for a few months, are you leaning towards a year or more of food storage and prep goods? (click Food Storage Calculator to calculate a one year food supply)
The point is, planning for a long crisis like a CME or a total economic meltdown should assume that fuel will not be available, that medical emergencies, wild fires, house fires and the like will be up to us to handle. It assumes that when we run out of food storage, heirloom garden seed will be needed to grow our food–and we’ll need to collect, dry and save seed for the next planting season.
Preparedness plans for a long-term crisis assumes that the overflow from the garden will be preserved by storing it in a root cellar, or cold storage, or through dehydration, and for those with a wood-burning cook stove, home canning.
But all of these things require practice!
Do you believe that you would be able to successfully grow fruits and vegetables if you have never grown a garden before?
Do you have a portable washtub for a time when sewers back up, so you can bathe, wash dishes, or do laundry?
Have you scouted for a reliable water source, and do you have a quality water purifier on hand to provide safe drinking, cooking and clean-up water?
Do you have a camp toilet and a shovel, or the materials put aside to build an outhouse? (reference: Mother Earth News; Building an Outhouse, written by Elizabeth Allyn)
Have you planned ahead for alternative transportation if gasoline and diesel can’t be found? (Here’s a YouTube with step by step instructions to build a Wood Gasifier for your truck, or generator)
Can you identify wild edible plants (including identifying a poisonous look-alike) that will sustain you while waiting for a garden to produce?
If there are holes in your preps or skill-sets, this may be an excellent time to kick things into gear!
(David’s note: I’ve always stressed fundamentals in preparedness…strategies that will increase your quality of life IMMEDIATELY as well as prepare you for disasters. The cool thing about this approach is that a plan based on fundamentals, rather than on specific disasters, will prepare you for anything that comes down the pipe. Don’t lose sleep over EMPs or CMEs, and don’t get overly focused on them, but do use news items like this one to spur you to forward action in at least one area of your preparations.)
Do you believe the warnings about CME’s and EMP’s are nothing more than scare tactics? Or does physicist Pete Riley come closer to the truth with his warning of 12% odds that another Carrington Event will occur within the next 10 years? Please sound off by posting below.
God bless and stay safe,
David Morris and Survival Diva