CME
Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) | Image by earthobservatory.nasa.gov

The Sun, Our Friend Or Enemy, Or Both?

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Way back when we were taught about our Solar System in an elementary school science class, but some of what we were taught has been updated. A good example is my favorite planet Pluto which was stripped of its designation as a planet.

Solar System Map -Copernicus
Copernicus – Heliocentric Map Of Our Solar System | Image by robinsonlibrary.com

Then, if we go way back in time, there is the case of Nicolaus Copernicus who was excommunicated by the Catholic Church because he formulated a model of the universe with the Sun at its center instead of the Earth known as “Heliocentric Theory.”

Tanning Oil
Dark Tanning Oil Advertisement 1966 | Image by pinterest.com

When I was growing up most everyone I knew would slather on the suntan oil and lay on a blanket at the beach or even in their backyard to “soak up some rays.” We have all been made aware by the medical community that the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun can damage our skin and even cause cancer.

Drusen - AOMD
Drusen – Indicator of Macular Degeneration | Image by McKinneyeyeworks.com

As I described recently in this column I have been diagnosed with Dry Age-Related Macular Degeneration. My eye specialist told me to make sure I wore a hat and sunglasses whenever I am out in the sun because UV rays are linked to a multitude of eye problems. The sun is also our friend keeping the Earth warm. Without the sun this would be a spherical ice cube that was uninhabitable.

Aurora
Aurora | Photo by John Flinn (local photographer)

Auroras have also been discussed here and they are the result of solar flares. The solar rays hit Earth’s magnetic field and light up the sky with beautiful colors.

CME
Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) | Image by earthobservatory.nasa.gov

Solar flares cause CME’s (Coronal Mass Ejections) which can also disrupt satellite and ground communications. Massive solar flares have been recorded in our less technological times about every one hundred years without much notice. Now that we are ruled by electronics and computers these solar flares can potentially be catastrophic.

The concept of this particular column article came from a Forbes.com article written by Jamie Carter and published March 13, 2019. The title of the article states the problem very well. “When Will A Massive Solar Storm Knock Out Our High-Tech Society? That Depends On Who You Ask.” Just how bad could it get? According to the article “A 2013 study by Lloyd’s of London and Atmosphere and Environmental Research concluded that a massive solar storm could cost US$2.5 trillion, and its effects could last for over a year.” It seems we haven’t been monitoring these storms long enough (started in 1957) to have any idea of patterns that would help predict when the massive solar storms are about to strike.

The Carringon Event
The Carrington Event | Image by Youtube

The most notable and strongest of the past massive solar storms occurred in late August and early September 1859 and was called “The Carrington Event,” because it was observed by astronomer Richard C. Carrington. The measurements that have been taken since 1957 use “the ‘Dst’ index, which is fed data every hour from stations across the globe. The value of this parameter ranges from -20 to +20 nanoteslas [nT]; it’s estimated that the Carrington Event was around -850 nT.” A nanotesla is equivalent to one gamma, a unit originally defined as 11 t0 the -5 gauss, which is the unit of magnetic field in the centimetre-gram-second system. Don’t worry if you don’t understand that because I don’t either. The best way to understand it is to realize that, in this complicated science, -850 nT is the highest measurement ever and is way above the normal of -20 to +20 nT.

In 1989 a solar storm struck Quebec, Canada and another in 2003 struck Malmo, Sweden both of which knocked out their electricity grids.

Lund University
Lund University Sweden | Image by orkans.com

According to a team of geologists from Lund University in Sweden they have found evidence of a powerful solar storm that occurred in 600 BCE. Quoting an interview with Raimund Muscheler, a Lund University professor of geology, from the article again “If that solar storm had occurred today, it could have had severe effects on our high-tech society.” Muscheler also found evidence of massive storms in 775 CE and 994 CE.

Another article on this subject appeared in on Scientific American.com October 18, 2017 and was written by Jeremy Hsu. It was titled “Future Solar Storms Could Cause Devastating Damage. Two astrophysicists, Abraham Loeb and Manasvi Lingham, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, according to the article ” they developed a mathematical model that assumes society’s vulnerability to solar burps will grow in tandem with technological advances. Under this model (described in the paper, which was submitted to arXiv.org) during the next 50 years the potential for economic damage will depend primarily on the rising odds of a strong solar storm over time. Beyond 50 years our vulnerability will increase exponentially with technical progress until the latter levels off.”

There are scientists who disagree with the model because it is supposed to estimate the damage costs out to 100 years, but the main objection is that there is no way to estimate the actual economy that far into the future, so it would not be possible to estimate how much the damage might actually cost. It seems much more work must be done to not only keep an eye on the solar activity, but also to develop means to protect our modern-day technology from this potential worldwide disaster.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can email me at: [email protected].