Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tonight's Sky for July 23: Earth's Near Miss (2012)

It was two years ago that Earth had a close shave with an event that could have sent the world back to the preindustrial age. What was this near catastrophe caused by, a comet? An asteroid? Neither: try a solar 'superstorm.'

It was on July 23, 2012 that an extraordinarily powerful coronal mass ejection (CME) blasted through Earth's orbit. For the record, this violent episode of space weather was estimated to have been as powerful as the legendary Carrington Event of 1859, which was so powerful it caused spectacular displays of aurora as far South as Hawaii and telegraph lines to emit sparks and even burst into flames. So why don't we remember this event that took place just two years ago?

Two words: it missed.

While solar flares and resulting CMEs don't harm any living things, the energy they release can wreak havoc on all sorts of electronic devices. At the time of the Carrington Event, the only real major electrical device in existence was the telegraph, which got fried. Now, if such an event were to hit, you might have to forget about using every electronic device you own because there would be a good chance of it becoming high-tech toast, the possibility of which should serve as impetus for further R&D efforts into protecting our electronics, upon which the world is now largely dependent.  

No comments:

Post a Comment