Essay and photos by: David Johanson Vasquez © All Rights
Solar Storm forecast & updates are located above the essay’s first paragraph. These updates will be posted anytime a major solar disturbance is cited. Please read the essay first and return at anytime to view posted updates.
Joint USAF/NOAA Report of Solar and Geophysical Activity SDF Number 197 Issued at 2200Z on 15 Jul 2012 IA. Analysis of Solar Active Regions and Activity from 14/2100Z to 15/2100Z: Solar activity has been at low levels for the past 24 hours. Region 1520 (S17W48) remains the largest and most magnetically complex region on the disk, however it has remained rather stable and quiet. Regions 1521 (S21W60) and 1519 (S17W68) have been the most active regions producing low-level C-class events. Both regions have shown moderate growth in sunspot area and magnetic complexity. No Earth directed CMEs were observed during the period. IB. Solar Activity Forecast: Solar activity is expected to be at low levels with a chance for M-class events for the next three days (16-18 July).
Friday 13th, 2012— A massive X-Class Solar Flare, which occurred yesterday, is hurling a coronal mass ejection (CME) towards Earth and will arrive approximately 5:17 A.M. EST according to NASA. Several events involving this latest solar storm are unusual and are cause for concern: it’s the second massive X-Class (X is the most powerful class of Solar Flares) to take place within a week, the angle of the CME is pointed directly at Earth, potential sighting for the Northern Lights within the southern U.S., NOAA’s forecast is for a mild to moderate geomagnetic storm on Earth, while NASA predicts a medium to severe storm to occur.
Earlier today, The Washington Post reported of the conflicting geomagnetic forecast from the leading Federal agencies who monitor solar storms. Today’s events concerning solar storms are matching those cited in the featured February 2012 BPI essay, indicating early warning of a destructive CME.
NOAA / Prepared jointly by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, Space Weather Prediction Center and the U.S. Air Force. 3-day Solar-Geophysical Forecast issued Jul 08 22:00 UTC http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/today.html
Solar Activity Forecast: Solar activity is expected to be moderate with a chance for X-class events for the next three days (09-11 July).
Geophysical Activity Forecast: The geomagnetic field is expected to be mostly quiet on day one (09 July). Quiet to unsettled conditions are expected on day two (10 July), with a chance for isolated active periods due to possible weak effects from the CME observed on 06 July. A return to mostly quiet conditions is expected for day three (11 July).
This year has seen a steady influx of news reports on increased solar storm activity hitting Earth. Most broadcasts concerning this development is of a less serious kind, featuring its spectacular visual effects, which creates the unworldly, “Northern Lights” or “Aurora Borealis.” However, a few reports have mentioned necessary cancellations of airline flights using trans-polar flight routes—due to the sun’s disruptive solar flares. Intense solar activity is nothing new, but a recurring event—which has taken place countless times before civilization ever existed on Earth. What’s of concern today is the 11-year peak cycle, of which the sun now is entering, resulting in extreme solar storm activity. Some solar physicists predict the current cycle of storms may have greater magnitude than any before, including the record solar maximum, chronicled over 150 years ago, in the year of 1859.
Why should anyone care if the solar storm activity becomes more intense than any other time in recorded history? Simply stated‑‑‑civilization as we know it, could be stopped in its tracks or altered to resemble something not recognizable.
Imagine not being able to turn on lights for illuminating your home or office—communication by phone, email and social media all gone, with no guarantees as to when it could or would be back online. There’s other more challenging issues regarding basic food production and distribution. The cited scenarios are extreme, but are possible consequences from a major solar storm. These intense solar disruptions are known as a “coronal mass ejection” (CME), which could knockout virtually any technology, requiring electricity. This event could take away most of the technology we depend on and ironically transport our way of life back to the time when the last great CME hit.
If you had a window, which peered back-in-time to the end of August, 1859; you’d see a developing western society on track with an industrial revolution in full-motion. Harnessing the new wonders of steam energy was nearly complete, however, electrical energy barely had reached its first phase of infancy. Few applications for electricity existed, except for a remarkable one in the form of instant communication. By sending electrical pulses through copper wires to a remote electromagnetic receiver, messages were transmitted instantly over great distances. The telegraph could be considered a 19th century equivalent of today’s Internet. This system used a basic, universal binary code developed primarily by the American artist, Samuel F.B. Mores. By the mid 19th century, scientist demystified electricity’s secrets, and inventors found ways to harness it for communication using “direct current.”
As the summer heat of September approached the northern hemisphere: a series of solar storms increased with startling intensity; producing extreme Northern Lights, which appeared in unlikely places, such as the Caribbean near the equator. Inhabitants reported in Northeastern America of using the intense Northern Lights to read newspapers with, during the dark hours of night. Other stories mention groups of people being awakened by this strange, bright light and believing it was actually morning. All over the World, compasses used for navigation (the rough equivalent of today’s GPS) were no longer giving accurate readings as the Earth’s geomagnetic forces were being distorted by the solar storms energy.
Sunspots on the sun’s surface, contributes to forming solar storms, of which Galileo had first observed in the 17th century and by 1745 solar flares were well documented. Up until 1859, the solar storms only known effects on humans were in producing dazzling display of cosmic fireworks, located far into the northern and southern hemispheres.
The uninformed, industrial age public had no reason for concern as the peak of the solar storm began arriving on September 1st and 2nd. These extreme, violent sun flares, hurled enormous magnetic clouds of plasma into space, known as a—coronal mass ejection (CME). This CME solar storm became known as the Carrington Event, named for a British astronomer, who first recognized and identified its geomagnetic effects on Earth.
Solar ejections normally take three to four days before reaching Earth, but this extreme burst had a hyper-velocity, which took less than 18-hours for the shock waves to compress the Earth’s protective magnetic field.
As a surge of solar electromagnetic energy overpowered and broke through part of the Earth’s own protective magnetic field, alarming events began happening. First, came a series of random, garbled telegraph signals being picked up—which mysteriously, had not been sent by an operator—then reports of telegraph receivers violently bursting into flames —setting secondary fires to office papers along with telegraph lines themselves. Jolts of electricity nearly electrocuted some operators while attempting to disconnect the system’s electrical batteries; even with their disconnection, frenetic signals continued out-of-control from massive energy overflows—the geomagnetic super-storm was sending dangerous charges of electricity through a vast network of copper lines. The geomagnetic storm caused by the sun, devastated an emerging communication infrastructure and severely set back its development.
This record solar storm event appeared on the scene, well before societies and industries realized electricity’s great potential—unlike today with electricity as an essential necessity in just about every part of the technology we use and take for granted today.
Until recently, I’ve always looked forward to the Northern Lights dazzling arrival. I recall my first Aurora Borealis encounter shortly after graduating from college, while on a road trip to the Olympic Rain Forest. Camping out in the Olympic Mountains, the northern sky began glowing at twilight with vivid illuminating curtains moving until they were flashing directly overhead. I kept watching the surreal specters until they exited out of view an hour later.
The next time I viewed these mysterious lights happened on a photography assignment to the “North Slope” oil fields, located above Alaska’s arctic circle. The Earth’s natural magnetic field, which protects the planet from much of the sun’s solar radiation, is weakest near the Earth’s polar regions; allowing for solar winds to enter and interact with our atmosphere to create the Aurora—this is why the cosmic lights are viewed while looking north, in the northern hemisphere and the reverse for the southern hemisphere.
Captivated by the up-close experience of the Aurora’s light; I endured the extreme outside temperature which was minus 40 degrees. Facing frigid arctic weather, I photographed the light show, until the springs controlling my camera’s shutter began to freeze up.
Actually today’s digital cameras make it easier to photograph the northern lights. Digital cameras, especially high-end, professional versions are much more low light-sensitive than film camera were and have a better tonal-dynamic-range. My all-time-favorite Northern Lights experience was in Eastern Washington, where I was at a ranch in the Okanogan region. This encounter was so full of effervescent bright light, it woke up birds from a night sleep as they began to take flight while making loud, chirping sounds as if dawn had arrived. In this environment, with no light-pollution from a city, while located at a 5,000 foot elevation, made for an ideal night-sky photography experience.
In 2003 was one of the greatest solar flare events in contemporary history —the Northern Lights were so intense, I easily photographed them from my home in Western Washington. Despite the bright lights coming from a nearby city, they did not obscure the luminous Aurora Borealis view. The referenced photos of the Northern Lights were taken from my home, are featured in this essay. In these images you can see the glowing transient—green, red and purple color produced, as the sun’s energy interacts with various gas elements which comprise the Earth’s atmosphere.
The reason for solar flare events to peak in 2013 or possibly in early 2014, is due to the sun’s magnetic field reversing polarity within an 11-year cycle. It takes a full 22-years for the sun’s magnetic fields to return to their original pole positions, which then completes a full cycle. Apparently, near the 11-year cycle, which our sun has entered, the solar flare activity becomes more intense.
The 1859 record solar maxim was on one of these 11 years cycles. Another theory connected with returning mammoth CMEs is the high quantity of sunspots recorded over the past couple of decades. Sunspots appear when portions of our star’s internal superheated matter, mixes with cooler regions above the surface; creating intense magnetic fields. These magnetic fields are swept up, and then forced below the surface, where they become recycled by the sun’s complex quantum mechanics. Energy from sunspots becomes amplified, creating even more extreme magnetic fields as they resurface form a four or five-year subsurface journey. These magnetic disturbance interact to create concentrated arcs of solar energy, which are so powerful they are ejected outward in the form of solar flares.
Other methods scientist use for estimating the potential scale of this year’s solar storms is to examine recent solar cycles—looking for progressive trends or patterns for their projections.
In 1989 a CME hit the Earth with intense energy particles, causing the electrical grid in Quebec, Canada, to crash, which plunged millions of people into darkness. This event took place during the “cold war” and it caused severe shortwave radio disruptions with Aurora Borealis sightings in south Texas. Some believed the disruption was the beginning of a Soviet nuclear first strike, using intense electromagnetic energy to disrupt communications and electric grid infrastructure. In reality the blackout was caused by a CME, created from the sun’s own nuclear energy. Acting like a giant teetering domino, the event triggered a chain reaction, taking down interconnecting electric networks within a large region of North America—but even this event was not on a scale with the mega storm of 1859. That’s why some scientist view the 30-year old, Hydro-Quebec solar storm as a telegraphed alarm warning.
With demand for power growing even faster than the grids themselves, modern networks are sprawling, interconnected, and stressed to the limit—a recipe for trouble, according to the National Academy of Sciences: “The scale and speed of problems that could occur on [these modern grids] have the potential to impact the power system in ways not previously experienced.” There’s fear the expanded network of lines creates a bigger antenna enabling it channel a geomagnetic induced current (GIC.) NASA has become alarmed with how much more vulnerable the North American power grid has become, it co-developed an experimental program called “Solar Shield” to help warn utilities of impending geomagnetic storms.
Since 1989 we have become much more dependent on microelectronics, with their intricate architecture of high density, compressed components. Having unshielded microcircuits squeezed tightly together increases the odds of severe damaged caused from geomagnetically induced currents (GICs). The 1989 solar storm event damage at least 30 satellites, some of which were beyond repair. Solar storms can easily scramble the intricate digital components of low-orbit satellites and disorient them from knowing which way is up or down.
In theory, with enough warning, orbiting satellites are safely switched off or pointed away from the sun’s destructive radiation. Early warning satellites are now positioned at a L1 point, geostationary orbit to monitor solar storms and announce threatening CME activity. Solar Shield Project is a collaboration between NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). The purpose of this project is for establishing a forecasting system, which can be used to lessen the impact of geomagnetically induced current (GIC) on high-voltage power transmission systems. (Please see associated link bellow for more information.)
The Earths atmosphere and magnetic fields normally protects us from the harmful solar storm’s radiation. Higher exposure to the sun’s powerful energy becomes a factor once you start climbing in elevation. Radiation exposure is a secondary reason why airlines must divert from their trans-polar routes, to avoid excessive exposure.
Disruption of GPS and radio communication from the solar storms is the primary reason for flight diversions. Astronauts working above Earth’s protective atmosphere face the greatest risk from such effects caused from solar flares. These stellar storms have shortened or alter a number of space missions in the past. The Russian’s space station MIR in 1993 had an unfortunate encounter with a solar storm, exposing the cosmonauts to dangerous levels of over 10 times the normal allowable radiation limits.
What could be warning signs or likely indicators of an impending maxim solar disturbance? So far, NASA and NOAA are the only government agencies I’m aware of who’s keeping the public informed with the most current status of solar flares.
At the end of this essay are links, which give important information on this year’s solar storms including: NASA and NOAA sites, which monitor hourly conditions. If solar storm activity becomes alarming, NASA will most likely be out front with the reports and major news networks will probably soon follow. If a certain threshold of (x-rays) is reached within the first phase of a major solar storm, the FAA will order cancellations of airlines with trans-polar flights. Disruption of shortwave radio communication is the earliest indicator of a severe storm. If conditions become dire, all but emergency flights would be grounded indefinitely.
If NASA issued orders to evacuate astronauts from the International Space Station (ISS), this would probably be a strong indicator the radiation levels from the second phase of a storm are severe. Supposedly the center of the Space Station has enough mass to offer some protection from this type of event, but NASA would probably play it safe and order emergency return flights, that is, if there was enough time. Seeing the Northern Lights close to the equator would be a strong indicator the Earth’s geomagnetic fields were being overrun, meaning the big one might be arriving. If a major CME (the particle phase of a storm) comes our way, there may be 18 hours or less to prepare. On the positive side, unlike a major earthquake or other natural disasters we at least would have some time to prepare and be ready to brace for a worst case scenario.
It would be an unfortunate irony if the sun made our world go dark, but here’s how it could happen. The National Academy of Science produced a 2008 report warning, if we had another major solar storm like the 1859 Carrington event, we would have extensive blackouts with the loss of key transformers. Our Nation’s electrical utilities have in all total, less than 400 major transformers to supply all the power we use. There are no longer any companies within the U.S., which make massive sized transformers. If an extreme solar maxim arrives, we’ll probably be on a long waiting list (along with the rest of the world) for key replacements. Given enough time, these massive electrical components can be built domestically, but it could take years — a major obstacle and a catch-22 — transformers require huge amounts of electricity for their construction.
Even without a disaster happening, electric utilities face a minimum of two-years from when a major transformer (average cost 4 million dollars) is ordered and finally installed (according to a global, equipment insurance company.) Critical shortages of raw materials and trained workforce for transformer installation contribute to this problem. Hopefully the utility company supplying your community power, learned a lesson from the 1989 Hydro-Quebec blackout. There are preventive strategies to guard against geomagnetic induced current (GIC)—such as a “solid ground system;” which is an industry design to help protect electrical infrastructure from a nuclear induced: electromagnetic pulse (EMP.)
An EMP creates a tremendous amount of electromagnetic energy, similar in some ways to a naturally occurring solar storm CME. The next best plan for the electric utilities will be to disconnect the power lines from any plant’s key equipment threatened by massive surges of electromagnetic energy. Just disconnecting lines could prove ineffective if a surge was big enough. The connecting leads to a transformer could possibly be used as an antenna for attracting the surge of electromagnetic energy.
There is something you can do to protect your own electrical devices from the devastating effects of either a solar CME or a nuclear EMP. You can easily, with very little cost, build what is known as a Faraday cage to protect your equipment. For instance for: a radio, cell phone or batteries (all of which are vulnerable to massive electrical surges;) you first wrap the devices in thick plastic like a freezer bag or bubble wrap, then use three layers of aluminum foil to completely wrap the devices so there are no gaps. The plastic acts as an insulator from the metal foil which intern deflects energy.
I’ve include a web link to an electrical engineer’s website who explains the procedures and others for protecting against Solar CMEs or EMPs. You can also do a google search for Faraday cage. Unplugging your electrical equipment from outlets is a good safety precaution, which ordinarily could protect you against a lighting storms, but will probably not prevent your electronics from being fried from a major CME. If you remembered what happen to the telegraph system, which was hit by the largest CME in history in 1859, the electromagnetic energy used the unconnected wires from the telegraph as an antenna to channel its force through. Tesla, the great Hungarian born inventor who championed AC electrical power, proved electrical transmission could efficiently be sent through air without using power lines.
One other critical infrastructure which could be devastated from an CME or EMP is major pipelines. The metal in power-lines an pipelines is a great conductor for geomagnetic energy. Testing has shown electromagnetic surges can effect the controls for monitoring pressure and flow of buried high-pressure pipelines. In Russia, it was found past solar storms have caused severe corrosion effects on some of its pipeline. Apparently, the corrosion effects is not as much of an issue in the North America because the pipes are manufactured using a more advanced process.
For most civil preparedness involving impending emergencies, it’s best to listen to experts who advise: always have enough: food, water and flashlights on hand to survive what happens after a major natural disaster event occurs. A good plan for how to keep in contact with family members will be critical if a major solar storm event occurs; especially with an extreme maxim CME, as communication equipment will be toast unless it was properly shielded from the event. Self-reliance is a good policy to help sustain individuals and families from the effects due to a major solar storm or catastrophe. Most common-sense preparations mentioned in this essay are basics ones every family should have in-place, in case of an earthquake or any major disaster occurrence.
Will a decimating solar storm hit in 2013 or 2014? No one can forecast for certain how severe this solar maxim will or will not be—however, if there’s enough strength behind the solar storm and its path becomes directly aimed towards Earth, then it could be the greatest challenge civilization has ever faced. Learning from the lessons of history has been an essential part of the human experience—we successfully thrive in the moment by learning from histories past events. This seems so obvious for self-preservation, but it involves a fine-tuned balancing process—between what we carefully choose to forget of painful tragedies, versus remembering our own inspirational triumphs. Ideally, the value of any-type of learning, produces confidence and preparedness for future encounters, situations and events.
Given a solar CMEs disruptive potential, it’s in everyone’s self-interest to judge the potential risk; then have an action-plan to help lessen the life-altering impact from an extreme-act-of-nature. Personally, I don’t sense any impending doom with this year’s solar maxim. By doing basic research, to become educated on solar events, I gained knowledge on the potential for some disruption to our infrastructure. With informed awareness, I’m confident I’ve taken the necessary precautions for my family to best be ready for this and any future natural disasters, which may arrive from over the horizon. ~
Bellow are useful links related to the subject solar storms including official government agencies including: NASA and NOAA. Other sites and articles include those from: National Geographic, Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor.
You’re encouraged to click on the links below to learn more about solar storms. ↓
A most beautiful video time-lapse of the Aurora Borealis http://vimeo.com/11407018
Solar Shield Project is a collaborative project between NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). http://ccmc.gsfc.nasa.govAn electrical engineer, who gives great information on how to protect your electrical components from EMP blast, produces this site. He also offers an expert opinion of what to expect will happen to our Nation’s electrical grid, if such an event occurs. http://www.futurescience.com/emp/emp-protection.html
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