NASA: Revisiting Our Vulnerabiity To Solar Flares

Last year, we recorded a fascinating interview with Dr. Lika Guhathakurta, NASA astrophysicist and heliophysics expert, to understand the science behind coronal mass ejections (CMEs -- also commonly referred to as 'solar flares) and the potential havoc a large one could wreak on our technology-dependent society. The largest CME recorded in modern history, the Carrington Event, occurred in 1859 and it's charged particle wave brought down the then-new telegraph system across the US.

Dr Guhathakurta returns to the podcast this week to discuss a large-scale CME that nearly hit Earth back in July of 2012 (a direct hit missed us by about 1 week), as well as to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the warning system we have in place to alert us to such dangers, and the continuing vulnerability our system have to such an event:

To bring our modern society to a halt, I don't think we need an event that is as large as a Carrington Event. It could be much smaller, simply because of the connectedness of our power grid and also the entire technological system. We don't know how to operate without our GPS system. 

What's interesting is that we used to think that this kind of low-probability, high-impact event happens every 100 years or so. Some researchers are doing calculations that suggest that the probability could be much higher: 10-12%. Now, that probability that they are referring to is that a solar storm will be that severe. But as to its impact -- we still know very little about that.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Lika Guhathakurta (35m:02s):

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Well, we have been warned!
I've watched for sometime:  Interesting and packed with realtime info.

Amazing such a potentially catastrophic event could get such little press.

 Seems sunspot AR2192 has passed the earth's target trajectory… again.  No CMEs,…    this time.

Chris…  interested to hear more about effects.  Unplugging items from the grid.  would that be enough?

If you did get to the plug in time…  if the grid goes down, what you got there is a perfectly good, unusable paperweight, yes?

Lots of disgusting news here:  Transformers that are not hardened, can't be replaced within a year…

14 hours … yikes… what kind of warning would that be?




Dateline Oct. 25: Powerful X-Class Solar Flares Hit Earth, Cause Radio Blackouts

Another great solar weather link in addition to mentioned above is Suspicious Observers.

or available on their YouTube channel here

They do a great daily solar and global earth weather report that's about five minutes long and is worth the time.  They also have great "Sun Series" of videos explaining solar phenomena (wow, great spell checker…) including a video relating to the dangers of an earth directed CME.

Lots of other worthwhile stuff on earthquakes, global warming, the electric universe etc…

It's a site well worth a browse…

Anyone know if a metal building, shed, or storage container will protect cel phones, generators, computers, and cars stored in them?  I've looked around the web, and at government sites but can't get definitive answers.  Lots of speculation but no one seems to know for sure.

A grounded metal shed will attenuate some of the energy but not all of it. In order to fully sheild an area, you must construct a true faraday cage which all surfaces are convered in a conductive shell. If the container is built with panels each panel must be electricall grounded. You can improve shielding of a shed by attaching grounding straps (basicall braided copper cable) to each part of the sheld panels. You can check the sheilding by check for reception of radio signals. Ideall you want to test between very low frequency AM and as high as 300 Mhz. After about 10 Mhz the output power of an EMP drops off. By 1 GHz the output is close to zero. Any items stored in the sheild area should not touch any of the sheilding panels, as it possible that energy absorbed by the panel can channel through your device if the energy finds a source to drain the energy into. You also can't run any cables or into the sheilded area unless you have the cabling designed to block all high voltage energy that the cable make collect (diffficult and very expensive to do!) Here is a article on how to sheild building from EMP:
Note: a Solar flare is much different than a Nuclear detention. A solar flare that causes an CME directed at the Earth can cause compton radiation to occur for hours if not days. A Nuclear Detention cause a very short pulse measured in nanoseconds. You cannot open your shield until the CME storm has completely passed.
For equipement that can't be readily shielded you can take measures to reduce the risks of damage. For instance this might be heavy applicances (ie Refrigeration, Freezer, Washing Machine).  Disconnect the applicance and short the terminals on the plug of the appliance so to reduce the potential voltage difference between the terminals. Coil the cord place it in  plastic bag and wrap the outside of the bag with aluminium foil. The foil will act as a partial sheild but you must make sure that the foil does not touch the plug terminals as it can tranfer a voltage potential to the appliance. If your applicance as a removal cord, than remove it.  Cords can act like attennas that absorb the RF energy emitted. By reducing the exposed surface area of the cabling you can reduce the amount of energy the device recieves during an EMP. An EMP damages electronics by creating a large voltage difference between a pair of terminals. 
Further more you can isolate your home from the grid by turning off all of the breakers. The grid acts like a super large attenna and will collect a lot of RF energy. Turning off all of the internal breakers will also help isolate them from the other circuits in your home reducing the voltage potential. The bigger the cabling network the larger the amount of energy that can be collected.
In a CME event you will have about 3 days to prepare.since it takes about 3 days for the CME to travel the 92 million Miles to Earth. This should provide ample time to disconnect equipment and move it to a shield area.
I suspect that Grid operators will take action to protect there equipment. For instance in a CME, I believe they will shutdown the grid by isolating the HV transformers from the High Tention HV power lines. Power Plant operators will likely disconnect their plants from the grid too. That said, they can't protect the end user transformers since there are simply too many and no control systems to disconnect them. Many of these smaller transformers (ie the pole Pigs) will be likely be damaged if a really strong CME hits. It would take quite along time to testreplacerepair them. 
The Big risk is that a large CME that hits earth will damage too much "essential" equipment to reboot the inftrasture in time to prevent a full scale collapse. For instance if the Grid is down for any length of time, Gas stations would be able to pump gas, Fuel pipelines that transfer fuel from the refineries will be out of of service. Any fuel that is available will be quickly consumed and if the the infrastructure can't be rebooted in time, People will run out of food and water. The People repairing the infrastructure won't have the means to work if they can get fuel to drive, or can't drive because the roads are impassible with abandoned vehicles, or there is wide spread civil disobedience that prevents them from performing thier job. Replacement parts need make become a probably espeically with our Just in Time manufacturing which limits the materials stored on site needed to produce parts. Sheilding your equipment make do very much since you have no way to use them if the infrastructure cannot be restored. 
Even if the infrastucture is restored it may only last a short while as a severe disruption will have servere and long lasting economic problems. Lots of Insurance companies would go bankrupt since its unlikley they will be able to fufill even a small fraction of the claims for a national or worldwide event. Many companies will have difficult servicing there debt, since their equipment is likely damaged and will prevent them from producing good or selling services. Many will be forced into bankruptcy. There will be a huge chain of problems that causes the mother of all economic collapses. 

An excellent article discussing what a Carrington level event will cause if we don't protect our grid at should be read and promoted.  I talked with the author and we still have not done anything to protect the EHV transformers our grid is totally dependent on.It is not a question of "if", but "when".  We WILL have another Carrington event, just a matter of time.  Do we continue to risk our civilization or fix it for less than the cost of ONE B-1 bomber?

Will my solar array with stand an EMP event?  I know the inverters and charge controllers may/will get toasted, but…

… but I was under the impression that the damage of CME/EMPs was caused by the magnetic change causing a large DC voltage over huge networks, which then blows out capacitors, insulation, etc.
As such, I would expect that EMPs/CMEs would take out cell phone towers but not cell phones, which means that the cell phones would still be useful for many things.

(This comment is in response to TechGuy's long comment above.)
We would NOT have 3 days to prepare.

The larger the storm, the faster it travels. The Carrington Event reached us in 19 hours. The fastest-traveling storm that we've recorded reached Earth's distance in 14 hours.

The storms that take 3 days to reach us aren't large enough to disrupt society; they just mess with high frequency radio signals and airline flights near the north pole. If the sun pops off a CME of the Carrington Event or greater, that's when we'll have to worry - and we'll have less than 20 hours to prepare.