How a Solar Storm Two Years Ago Nearly Caused a Catastrophe on Earth

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“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,” Baker tells NASA. “If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire.”

Text of How a Solar Storm Two Years Ago Nearly Caused a Catastrophe on Earth

  • BY JASON SAMENOW July 23 at 3:48 pm How a solar storm two years ago nearly caused a catastrophe on Earth On July 23, 2012, the sun unleashed two massive clouds of plasma that barely missed a catastrophic encounter with the Earths atmosphere. These plasma clouds, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), comprised a solar storm thought to be the most powerful in at least 150 years. If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces, physicist Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado tells NASA. Via NASA: This movie shows a coronal mass ejection (CME) on the sun from July 22, 2012 at 10:00 p.m. EDT until 2 a.m. on July 23 as captured by NASAs Solar Terrestrial RElations Observatory-Ahead (STEREO-A). Because CME captured by NASA July 23, 2012 (NASA) Enlarge & Animate Weather Underground Radar DC Webcam Radar 1 2 3 4 5 Israel calls Brazil a 'diplomatic dwarf' - and then brings up World Cup... The drug that could imperil Medicaid My son has been suspended five times. Hes 3. #westillcoming: The real story behind the viral wedding photo and its 'un... I blamed my wife for our messy house, I was wrong for many reasons Most Read trending articles After leveling Iraq's Tomb of Jonah, the Islamic State could ... Coming Distractions: Trailer for The Death Of Superman Lives:... Israel and Hamas agree to a 12-hour cease-fire At a glance Go to CWG's Full Forecast About Meet the Gang Contact Weather Wall Forecasts Archives CapitalWeatherGang The inside scoop on weather in the D.C.area and beyond Traffic Sign In My Account SUBSCRIBE: Home Delivery Digital Gift Subscriptions PostT V Politics Opinions Local Sports National World Business Tech Lifestyle Entertainment Jobs More
  • the CME headed in STEREO-As direction, it appears like a giant halo around the sun. NOTE: This video loops 3 times. Credit: NASA/STEREO Fortunately, the blast site of the CMEs was not directed at Earth. Had this event occurred a week earlier when the point of eruption was Earth-facing, a potentially disastrous outcome would have unfolded. 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, Baker tells NASA. If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire. Video overview of July 23, 2012 solar storm A CME double whammy of this potency striking Earth would likely cripple satellite communications and could severely damage the power grid. NASA offers this sobering assessment: Advertisement Analysts believe that a direct hit could cause widespread power blackouts, disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket. Most people wouldnt even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps. . . . 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. CWGs Steve Tracton put it this way in his frightening overview of the risks of a severe solar storm: 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. Solar physicists compare the 2012 storm to the so-called Carrington solar storm of September 1859, named after English astronomer Richard Carrington who documented July 26 F | C D.C. Area Almanac National Dulles BWI Avg. Hi: 88 88 87 Avg. Lo: 71 66 67 Rec Hi: 103 (1930) 98 (2012) 101 (1940) Rec Lo: 54 (1920) 50 (1976) 55 (1976) Sunrise: 6:04 a.m. 6:05 a.m. 6:02 a.m. Sunset: 8:24 p.m. 8:26 p.m. 8:24 p.m. Sponsored Links Pimsleur Discover how you can speak any language in just 10 short days. Pimsleur! Millions Rattled By Website Anyone can access public records & see what some may be hiding. Search now! Buy a link here 66 88 SAT PRECIP: 30% 74 88 SUN PRECIP: 60% 71 86 MON PRECIP: 40% 64 78 TUE 57 81 WED 59 84 THU At a glance Forecast by National Weather Service 73.0 F (22.8 C) Weather: Mostly Cloudy Wind: South at 6.9 MPH Dew Point: 64.9 F Pressure: 1016.3 mb Dulles Airport BWI Airport Right now Go to CWG's Weather Wall Last Updated on Jul 26 2014, 1:52 am EDT National Airport 15 Number of 90-degree days year-to-date More info >> Heat tracker Yearly average: 36 Record most: 67 (1980,2010) Record fewest: 7 (1886,1905) Last year: 35
  • Jason Samenow is the Capital Weather Gang's chief meteorologist and serves as the Washington Post's Weather Editor. He earned BA and MS degrees in atmospheric science from the University of Virginia and University of Wisconsin-Madison. 881 Comments Discussion Policy the event. In my view the July 2012 storm was in all respects at least as strong as the 1859 Carrington event, Baker tells NASA. The only difference is, it missed. During the Carrington event, the northern lights were seen as far south as Cuba and Hawaii according to historical accounts. The solar eruption caused global telegraph lines to spark, setting fire to some telegraph offices, NASA notes. NASA says the July 2012 storm was particularly intense because a CME had traveled along the same path just days before the July 23 double whammy clearing the way for maximum effect, like a snowplow. This double-CME traveled through a region of space that had been cleared out by yet another CME four days earlier, NASA says. As a result, the storm clouds were not decelerated as much as usual by their transit through the interplanetary medium. NASAs online article about the science of this solar storm is well-worth the read. Perhaps the scariest finding reported in the article is this: There is a 12 percent chance of a Carrington-type event on Earth in the next 10 years according to Pete Riley of Predictive Science Inc. Initially, I was quite surprised that the odds were so high, but the statistics appear to be correct, Riley tells NASA. It is a sobering figure. Its even more sobering when considering the conclusion of Steve Tractons 2013 article: Are we ready yet for potentially disastrous impacts of space weather? Tractons answer: an unequivocal, if not surprising, no! Conversation Live You must be signed in to comment. Sign In or Register 1 And a little research finds there's a chance of even greater 'cosmic ray events' coming from outside our galaxy. Thanks to the InterNet, I may never be able to sleep again... 8:58 AM GMT+0200 JoeStrange Like Reply 1 Bring it on! It would do us good in the long term to get hit by a massive CME. The bigger the better. We need some serious restructuring on this planet. The majority of humans need to experience pain and suffering before they even consider changing their ways. 6:24 AM GMT+0200 Erik Jacobsen Like Reply 8:35 AM GMT+0200 1 Lets start with you. cubanbob Like Reply 2:24 AM GMT+0200 david mike All Comments Newest First
  • 1 On the other handIn March of the same year (2012), the Earth took a direct hit from an X-5 CME which could have caused serious problems. (X-class is the category for measuring the largest solar flares; it has nine sub- divisions.) During the 3-day event, the Earths thermosphere was hit with 26 trillion watts of energy per hour. However, as NASA stated, the CO2 and NO in the upper atmosphere repelled 95% of the energy back into space. Afterwards, NASA concluded that CO2 helps cool the Earthnot warm it. news/science-at-na... Are you wondering why you never heard this? You should. Like Reply 2:58 AM GMT+0200 2 As I said the first time you posted this, you misunderstood the papers. CO2 does not have any effect in reflecting x-rays, and it certainly does not cool the Earth. CO2 blocks some light coming from the Sun from reaching the surface, but at the same time it blocks some light being emitted from the surface from reaching space. Since the Sun is hot, it radiates mostly in the visible range. Since the Earth is the temperature it is, it radiates more in the infrared. The net effect of more CO2 is to keep more heat in the Earth system. jayc1 Like Reply 8:59 AM GMT+0200 Wrong... JoeStrange Like The ionosphere protects earth from solar flares by greatly attenuating their intensity. For a complete overview I recommend reading this Wikipedia entry: 12:30 AM GMT+0200 w8sdz Like Reply 2:50 AM GMT+0200 While CMEs are often related to solar flares, they are different phenomena. A flare is a peak in intensity of light, often energetic light such as x-rays. A CME is an ejection of particles from the Sun, ionized atoms. It also is a disturbed region of magnetic field. A flare often occurs at the time a CME is launched. Flares of course travel at the speed of light, reaching Earth in 8 minutes. A CME may travel at a range of speeds, but takes on the order of a few hours to reach Earth orbit. The cloud of particles travels out from the Sun, generally in the plane of the Solar system. When it encounters the magnetic field of a planet, it disturbs that field. Disturbances of the field can induce large voltages in long conductors. The high-energy ions also are a type of radiation that can cause damage. The atmosphere protects us from most radiation (not just the ionosphere), but in a large event, some penetrates to ground level, particularly at the poles. What the ionosphere protects us from best is ultraviolet light. The Sun puts out a lot of ultraviolet light even when r