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Published on November 3rd, 2010 | by Yellow Magpie

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The Solar Maximum: The Years The Earth Is Left Defenceless

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Life as we know it, may about to get a lot tougher as the Sun goes into its Solar Maximum cycle. This promises to have devastating consequences for our electrical grid and for a lot of our technologies. So what will happen?

The Sun goes through different cycles of solar activity. Currently, we are in a low-activity period which has lasted nearly 20 years. But all that is set to change as the Sun becomes more active in the upcoming decade.

The Sun

What Are Solar Flares?

Solar flares are giant bursts of energy that can be several times larger than the Earth. They give off huge amounts of power, vastly dwarfing peoples’ current efforts at electricity production and producing up to one-sixth of the Sun’s total energy output.

NASA predicts that 2012 may indeed by one of the worst years for solar flares as the Sun enters the Solar Maximum, its most active period. As our world is now increasingly reliant on technology, the consequences of this period could be devastating.

So What Has Happened?

Luckily, we have experienced solar storms before so we know what to expect. In 1859, solar flares greatly distorted the Earth’s magnetic field. The telegraph system became defunct turning the Stock Market into chaos as prices could not be reported.

Sunspot Records

More recently, in 1989, a solar storm affected the Canadian city of Quebec plunging the heavily populated area into darkness as transformers became overloaded.

So What Will Happen?

Solar flares can do a lot of damage, especially given our dependence on technology. In a worst case scenario, a solar storm has the potential to disrupt satellites, cause blackouts and disrupt the aviation industry.

University College Dublin’s director of physics and astrology, Peter Gallagher, speaking to the Sunday Times noted that: ‘It would effectively kill all our satellites, bring down computers, kill GPS, render air-traffic control ineffective, distort shortwave radio, and cause power blackouts all over the world.’

Early Warning Detection

An early warning detection grid has being formed with ten observation centres scattered throughout the world in the e-Callisto project.

Led by students of Trinity College Dublin, the project hopes to add a second radio antennae to the historical site at Birr Castle, home to the ‘Leviathan’ which is formerly the world’s largest telescope.

Coronal Mass Ejection On The Sun

Solutions For Solar Storms

Although currently there are no solutions to solar flares inferring with technology. It may be prudent to start running electrical grids underground instead of leaving them open the whims of the Sun. However, this could be highly costly especially over difficult terrain.

It may also be possible to shield satellites from such solar activity. Whether or not this will occur is another matter.

But whatever happens, it will be interesting to see what transpires in the next few years.

Highly Recommended Reading

Check our Yellow Magpie’s The Sun: Our Source Of Light And Life

Cosmos is a highly recommended book. It contains large, full-page pictures of the Sun and its critical role in life and insightful writing on the subject by the highly competent author, Giles Sparrow.

Amazon.co.uk
For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom, you can access: Cosmos from here.

Amazon.ca
For those who live in Canada, you can obtain: Cosmos here.

Amazon.de
For Germany: Cosmos.

Amazon.fr
For France: Cosmos.


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