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View Full Version : What will happen with the solar storms of 2012-2014


Wesley Clark
08-11-2011, 09:28 AM
I have read recently that there could be a lot of solar flare activity in the next few years, and it could massively disrupt electricity & communications.

http://articles.nydailynews.com/2010-06-24/news/27068218_1_solar-storms-geomagnetic-storm-solar-flares

http://io9.com/5130558/solar-storm-season-could-plunge-earth-into-total-blackout-warn-scientists

http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/194405/20110808/solar-flare-severe-solar-storm-emissions-earth-noaa.htm

The big risk seems to be that power transformers will be destroyed en masse, and it will take a year or more to rebuild them. So in the period, sporadic or non-existant electricity.

Will this be like Y2K (a massive prediction, but nothing happens since we prepared ahead of time and it was less severe than we thought)? If it does happen what effect would it have on civilization?

If several large cities lost their grid power supply for months on end (or years) that would cause major problems. Another issue is the articles say the US doesn't make transformers domestically, so if we lose ours we will be last in line behind the nations that actually make them.

Wincerind
08-11-2011, 10:08 AM
There is nothing new the coming few years. There has always been a possibility of huge solar flares severely disrupting our society, but, if anything, the Sun seems a lot quieter than it has been since (IIRC) the 1700's. Reading the articles quoted, it seems to me the journalists are combining the message "The Sun is getting more active the coming years" and "Massive solar stroms can disrupt Society" into "The coming years the Sun will have massive eruptions". It could, nobody knows. The likelihood seems lower than in previous cycles, but it would behoove us if we would make our electronic systems in future as robust as possible. Don't panic though.
(BTW, and slight hijack: there are some charlatans around who truly forecast the end of the world due to solar storms in 2012, all connected to the Maya calendar. I feel for the Mayans: capable of forecasting solar storms in 2012, but not the arrival of the spanish...).

XT
08-11-2011, 10:48 AM
Another issue is the articles say the US doesn't make transformers domestically, so if we lose ours we will be last in line behind the nations that actually make them.

There is nothing to say that the US couldn't make the things...it's just cheaper to buy them and import them than to manufacture them here (assuming it's true that there are no US companies that make transformers). Regardless, power companies keep spares, so my guess is that if there was a large disruption they would be able to use the spares on hand, order new ones and be back up in a relatively short time...assuming it's not an apocalyptic scale solar storm.

If several large cities lost their grid power supply for months on end (or years) that would cause major problems.

I'm not seeing large portions of the grid going down for months or years due to solar activity...more like days or weeks, though I'm no expert. I'd think a bigger problem would be our reliance on satellites and the fact that while, on the one hand we've become more and more reliant on them, on the other we've devoted less and less to launch vehicles and the ability to keep putting the things up on a regular basis. I seem to recall that our GPS system is in danger of failing because no one wants to spend the money to put up new satellites that are needed to replace the ones that have failed.

-XT

Chronos
08-11-2011, 03:00 PM
When solar activity caused a blackout in Montreal, in 1989 (http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/sun_darkness.html), it was only 12 hours before they got back up, not months. And outages from solar storms can be prevented with advance warning: Basically, you separate out portions of the grid, making the "antennas" smaller, and preventing any failures which still occur from cascading. This increases costs to the power companies, so they don't want to do it all the time, but for a few days every 11 years, it's not a big deal.

And we're getting better at predicting solar storms all the time, due both to better instruments watching the Sun and a better understanding of what we're seeing from those instruments.

John Bredin
08-11-2011, 06:00 PM
If several large cities lost their grid power supply for months on end (or years) that would cause major problems. Another issue is the articles say the US doesn't make transformers domestically, so if we lose ours we will be last in line behind the nations that actually make them.

As far as I could tell skimming the articles, one article mentioned that transformers are built elsewhere but didn't explicitly say they aren't made here. Surprise, surprise, it was the Daily News article. :rolleyes:

One Google search found one (http://www.waukeshaelectric.com/about_waukesha.html) U.S. transformer manufacturer. And another (http://www.centralmoloneyinc.com/default.aspx). And yet another (http://www.aecinc1.com/index.htm) (although the website doesn't say where their factory is). Here's one (http://www.dongan.com/Home/tabid/36/Default.aspx)emphasizing that it still manufactures transformers in the U.S. (although a quick look at the website didn't see utility-company-sized transformers). A little more fiddling with the search terms found another (http://www.patransformer.com/).

Here's an article (http://www.istockanalyst.com/article/viewiStockNews/articleid/4890657) about a non-U.S. company (Mitsubishi Electric) opening a transformer factory in Memphis (Tennessee, not Egypt). And a press release (http://english.hhi.co.kr/press/news_view.asp?idx=596&page=1) about another non-U.S. company (Hyundai) opening a transformer factory in Alabama.

Duckster
08-11-2011, 09:38 PM
When solar activity caused a blackout in Montreal, in 1989 (http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/sun_darkness.html), it was only 12 hours before they got back up, not months.

In technology terms, 1989 was in the Age of Dinosaurs.

A solar storm today has the potential to disrupt satellites, telecommunications, Internet, GPS, power grids, etc., far beyond what happened in 1989. Imagine being aboard a commercial aircraft directed by GPS when it suddenly goes haywire. Maybe no big deal at 35,000 over Nebraska, but what about on final approach, in fog? Or your bank wire transfer at closing fails, and you lose the house purchase?

Or your posting of that extravagant soliloquy to the SDMB and your Internet access dies?

:D

Uosdwis R. Dewoh
08-11-2011, 09:44 PM
I feel for the Mayans: capable of forecasting solar storms in 2012, but not the arrival of the spanish...
No one expects the Spanish...

Triskadecamus
08-11-2011, 09:52 PM
A year and a half ago the "Let's write scary science stuff for the papers" crowd were bemoaning the fact that the solar cycle was not coming. No sunspots! No solar storms! The increase in cosmic ray influx that was going to result from the weakening of the sun and earth's magnetic fields was going to mean "THE END OF LIFE AS WE KNOW IT, AND A NEW ICE AGE!"

So, the cycle cycles and sunpots start up, and lo, Solar activity is at the highest level in six years! sigh.

Tris

Tom Tildrum
08-12-2011, 11:44 AM
NASA will find the best oil-drilling crew in the world, train them as astronauts, put them in a space shuttle, and fly them up to the Sun, where they will bore a hole in the sunspot and plant a nuclear bomb to disrupt it.

JohnT
08-12-2011, 11:49 AM
To prevent these brave souls from dying, NASA has devised an ingenious method that allows them to land on the Sun at night. :D

Chronos
08-12-2011, 12:16 PM
In technology terms, 1989 was in the Age of Dinosaurs.Yes, and we've developed a lot of technology since then to better protect our systems. All of the things you mention can be protected from a storm with advance warning. In the extreme, some of them might result in a temporary outage while the storm is hitting us, but it'd be an anticipated outage, so you could use other navigation systems on your airplane, or whatever. And once the storm is over, you could bring the systems back into service immediately.

thatguyjeff
08-12-2011, 12:38 PM
Zombie apocalypse obviously.

Read "One Second After" by William R. Forstchen.

kidchameleon
08-12-2011, 03:17 PM
Another issue is the articles say the US doesn't make transformers domestically

Duh, they're made on Cybertron.

BrainGlutton
08-12-2011, 04:33 PM
I think we need to prepare for the worst, with a project to produce gene-tailored hot-chick supersoldiers.

Wesley Clark
08-12-2011, 06:36 PM
Soooooo, the consensus is 'no chance'. Ok. According to this guy, the worst that would happen is loss of power for a few months, but he considers that unlikely. He claims hours or days of power loss in areas with fragile electronics is the most likely outcom. That makes me feel better.

http://www.redorbit.com/news/space/1879651/2013_solar_storm_could_create_widespread_panic/

Every 22 years the Sun's magnetic energy cycle peaks while the number of sunspots hits a maximum level every 11 years.

Fisher, who has been a NASA scientist for 20 years, said these events would combine in 2013 to produce huge levels of radiation.

He said large swathes of the world could face being without power for several months, although he said that was unlikely.

He said that a more likely scenario would be places which have "fragile" power grids would be without power and access to electronic devices for hours, possibly days.

Justin_Bailey
08-12-2011, 09:36 PM
Read "One Second After" by William R. Forstchen.

Don't actually. If roving bands of cannibal rapists actually appeared every time the power went out, the world would be a very different place.

Wincerind
08-15-2012, 11:13 AM
Soooooo, the consensus is 'no chance'. Ok. According to this guy, the worst that would happen is loss of power for a few months, but he considers that unlikely. He claims hours or days of power loss in areas with fragile electronics is the most likely outcom. That makes me feel better.

http://www.redorbit.com/news/space/1879651/2013_solar_storm_could_create_widespread_panic/

Every 22 years the Sun's magnetic energy cycle peaks while the number of sunspots hits a maximum level every 11 years.

Fisher, who has been a NASA scientist for 20 years, said these events would combine in 2013 to produce huge levels of radiation.

He said large swathes of the world could face being without power for several months, although he said that was unlikely.

He said that a more likely scenario would be places which have "fragile" power grids would be without power and access to electronic devices for hours, possibly days.

This (i.e. the cite) sounds like total baloney. The sun waking from a deep slumber? Cycles combining? The sun is on the upwards cycle of its 11 years activity cycle, peeking in 2013. That's not "waking from a slumber"! The actual solar cycle is 22 years (solar dynamo flipping polarity every 11 years, so after 22 years it is back to where it was), in which 11 years fits rather nicely. So no sudden one in a lifetime combination of highs....
I lierally don't believe someone from NASA actually said this.

RandMcnally
08-15-2012, 02:44 PM
Don't actually. If roving bands of cannibal rapists actually appeared every time the power went out, the world would be a very different place.

I second this suggestion. It's an interesting read, but not realistic in the least.

Cartooniverse
08-25-2012, 11:04 AM
Don't actually. If roving bands of cannibal rapists actually appeared every time the power went out, the world would be a very different place.

It won't matter as long as they are Legitimate Rapes. :rolleyes:

Even a week or two of widespread power loss would have a ripple effect that would resonate for a long time. Wonder how much of the Logan's Run effect would take place.

JackieLikesVariety
08-25-2012, 12:33 PM
Don't actually. If roving bands of cannibal rapists actually appeared every time the power went out, the world would be a very different place.

this seems oddly profound or something...I may need another pot of coffee...:o