Sunday, July 5, 2009

Space storm alert: 90 seconds from catastrophe

An article in by Michael Brooks in the New Scientist
Space storm alert: 90 seconds from catastrophe

"IT IS midnight on 22 September 2012 and the skies above Manhattan are filled with a flickering curtain of colourful light. Few New Yorkers have seen the aurora this far south but their fascination is short-lived. Within a few seconds, electric bulbs dim and flicker, then become unusually bright for a fleeting moment. Then all the lights in the state go out. Within 90 seconds, the entire eastern half of the US is without power.

A year later and millions of Americans are dead and the nation's infrastructure lies in tatters. The World Bank declares America a developing nation. Europe, Scandinavia, China and Japan are also struggling to recover from the same fateful event - a violent storm, 150 million kilometres away on the surface of the sun.

It sounds ridiculous. Surely the sun couldn't create so profound a disaster on Earth. Yet an extraordinary report funded by NASA and issued by the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in January this year claims it could do just that.

Over the last few decades, western civilisations have busily sown the seeds of their own destruction. Our modern way of life, with its reliance on technology, has unwittingly exposed us to an extraordinary danger: plasma balls spewed from the surface of the sun could wipe out our power grids, with catastrophic consequences.

The projections of just how catastrophic make chilling reading. "We're moving closer and closer to the edge of a possible disaster," says Daniel Baker, a space weather expert based at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and chair of the NAS committee responsible for the report."

The article really captured my imagination.

This report says that a severe space storm could knock out all of the huge power grids in the world. It would melt all of the transformers and those would take years to replace if they all went bad all at once.

Life without electricity would mean death for millions. Hospitals would stop running after back up generators ran out of fuel. Water would stop running from the tap within days, and sooner than that for people in high rises. You couldn't pump gas without electricity. All the food in your fridge would go bad, and the just in time inventory of your supermarket would break down. Food would become the new gold.

Communication would break down in a severe solar storm, as would gps navigation systems.

I could only imagine the lawlessness. The whole system could break down, and eventually you would have every man for himself.

I think this would be a great basis for a science fiction novel. Check out the artcile. It goes into detail about what could happen. Sphere: Related Content

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