After Coronavirus, what’s the next horrible thing to befall humanity-V: solar flares

The next in our series of light-hearted looks at the disasters that could produce a catastrophic (and painful) end to us all

The Sun, as every schoolchild knows, is about 151.98 million km away. That’s just about far enough to keep us all warm, and not to get too sunburned, provided you use lots of that funny factor cream, or whatever they call it. And so it ticks away, warming our houses, helping us grow things like potatoes, and giving lazy people the excuse to lie around for an hour instead of working or looking to morally improve themselves. As it has been doing this for many years, what could possible go wrong?

Well quite a lot, actually. Every so often, magnetic disturbances throw out solar flares, enormous surges of highly charged magnetic particles, some of which reach earth. Normally they are harmless, simply producing agreeable atmospheric displays called the aurora borealis. But once in a while there is a much bigger one. The destructive potential of one of these could be colossal. No, it won’t burn you to death. But the enormous input of charged particles will knock out our entire rim of communications satellites, leading to a collapse of world communications. Power generation facilities, especially transformers, will be overwhelmed. As the power goes down, the vast stores of refrigerated foods we store in supermarkets and depots will rot to poison in days. Vaccines and other treatments stored at low temperatures will deteriorate. And who will be able to operate a hospital or prison, with all the chilling implications that has for the social order?

Hasn’t been known before, we hear you chortle. Oh yes it has. The first known such was the Carrington event of 1859. That only wrecked the world’s telegraph systems, because that was all they had back then. We’re a bit more vulnerable now, aren’t we? And if you still sit complacently over your bowl of porridge, think of this. Studies of other class G stars like our Sun, suggest that really big flares like this are common. It’s just a matter of waiting until the old roulette wheel comes round with our number on it.

If you want to know more, read this excellent article by Patricia Sanchez-Blazquez and Pablo G Perez from El Pais. It’s in Spanish, so if you live in places like Deportivo la Coruna, Espanyol or Real Sociedad, you’ll need a translator.

#solarflare #powernetwork #communicationssatellites #magnetosphere #auroraborealis

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