Earth on Path to Solar Danger Zone

We’ve brought stories referencing the Carrington Event that devastated electrical lines in 1859 before, but a recent event in just the past few hours has some monitoring solar activity concerned.  At 15:36 Universal Time on November Sixth one of the brightest x-ray solar flares shot out and started hurtling just ahead of Earth’s orbital trajectory.  And now with this sunspot gearing up with more activity than ever, Earth is about to step right in front of it.

Imagine a massive cannon with a diameter of almost a thousand miles.  Now imagine instead of cannonballs, this theoretical device fires massive waves of magnetic and solar energy.  Scientists have been watching from the surface of the Earth as this object fires cannonball after cannonball of flares that spread out their magnetic energy powerfully enough to affect Earth’s low frequency radios.  Now imagine Earth gearing up to pass right in front of it even as it blows out incredible amounts of energy into space almost daily as of late.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the M5.4 class event late November sixth, but sighed a breath of relief when the plasma cloud coming out from it failed to directly hit Earth.  Instead it went directly ahead of us – where we’re going to be shortly.  It’s no question that a massive solar event could devastate the planet.  With activity powerful enough the entire power infrastructure could be disintegrated within minutes.  A solar flare sufficiently more powerful than that could even end a large portion of life on the planet within seconds.

Solar flares are measured in Angstroms with one being the smallest and eight being the largest X class events.  Angstroms are then divided into four categories with a class B event being hardly recognizable on Earth without advanced equipment studying it.  A class C event is slightly larger while Class M and X events can cause problems for those caught in the way.

But the threat of a solar event shooting out and wiping all life on Earth off the face of the planet is extremely unlikely (it hasn’t happened for at least two billion years so don’t worry about tomorrow).  This isn’t the threat that has some experts concerned, however.  If the Earth’s magnetic field were to be disrupted it could result in a geomagnetic storm.  With Earth’s magnetic field in disarray, power lines could be disrupted and the entire infrastructure of the planet’s power grid could be destroyed.  However, with sufficient warning of a solar event, it is possible that power systems worldwide could be put into a sort of “safe mode” assuming power companies were made aware and motivated to do so in time.  Of course the amount of time required for light to reach Earth is only eight minutes.  And the satellites beaming information back cannot exceed this speed any more than the rays it would warn against.  It would be up to astronomers and “sun watchers” to predict trends.

As the sun heats up, we’ll be sure to monitor data as it becomes available and share it.

(Date corrected by a reader in New Zealand)