In July of 2012 the earth had a near miss, a huge coronal mass injection barely missed the earth. Such an event did hit the earth in 1859. [icopyright one button toolbar]
Before July 2012, when researchers talked about extreme solar storms their touchstone was the iconic Carrington Event of Sept. 1859, named after English astronomer Richard Carrington who actually saw the instigating flare with his own eyes. In the days that followed his observation, a series of powerful CMEs hit Earth head-on with a potency not felt before or since. Intense geomagnetic storms ignited Northern Lights as far south as Cuba and caused global telegraph lines to spark, setting fire to some telegraph offices and thus disabling the ‘Victorian Internet.”
Today such an event would be even more catastrophic. Our entire high tech society could be wiped out in an instant. The components in the device you are using to read this post would be fried but it probably wouldn’t matter because you wouldn’t have any electricity to power it anyway.
Extreme solar storms pose a threat to all forms of high-technology. They begin with an explosion–a “solar flare”—in the magnetic canopy of a sunspot. X-rays and extreme UV radiation reach Earth at light speed, ionizing the upper layers of our atmosphere; side-effects of this “solar EMP” include radio blackouts and GPS navigation errors. Minutes to hours later, the energetic particles arrive. Moving only slightly slower than light itself, electrons and protons accelerated by the blast can electrify satellites and damage their electronics. Then come the CMEs, billion-ton clouds of magnetized plasma that take a day or more to cross the Sun-Earth divide. Analysts believe that a direct hit by an extreme CME such as the one that missed Earth in July 2012 could cause widespread power blackouts, disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket. Most people wouldn’t even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps.
It could literally take years to get the power back on again. Under ideal conditions it takes months to build high voltage transformers that are an integral part of our electrical transmission system and of course the the conditions after such an event will be far from ideal. In addition nearly everything in our society is dependent on computers and integrated circuits many of which would be destroyed by such an event.
It is assumed that a large asteroid killed the dinosaurs- perhaps a large coronal mass injection could do the same thing to our society and man.