|"The Northern Lights"|
Frederick Church, American painter
painted in the 1960's,
perhaps inspired by the 1859 superstorm
"She ran screaming down the street, unable to contain her terror as night was turned into hideous crimson daylight…communications networks failed and equipment burst into flame…a bustling city lost power, trapping thousands of people inside elevators…satellites malfunctioned and in an instant millions of people lost touch with critical services, doctors and children."
|From the NASA report cited. Based|
on the work of Smart et al.
Nevertheless, during Cycle 23, there were satellite outages and losses totaling nearly $3 billion, and commercial satellites collectively lost about 3 years of lifespan at an estimated eventual cost of tens of billions in lost profit. There were also several near-misses with US electrical grid blackouts. Those in Quebec who remember the day that the power grid went down in March in Quebec, or those of us who are here in a deep freeze in the midwest this December shudder (literally) at the thought of a length power outage.
If Cycle 24 (the one we have now begun) were to have such a storm, it would be close to sunspot maximum, sometime between 2010 and 2012, likely in March or September during the Equinoxes. If astronomers notice a "large, angry-looking" sunspot (when did NASA start writing poetically?!!) crossing the solar meridian, time to look out. It is predicted that all satellites on the daylight side of Earth would be blacked out by an intense blast of X-rays and energetic particles. The X-rays would destroy the D-layer and cause shortwave blackouts; ozone would be depleted by 5-10% causing a spike in skin cancer events. Auroras would dazzle us around the world. Computer systems on earth would crash as the integrity of their binary information systems is compromised. Satellite losses and malfunctions would run up to $20 billion losses, Defense Department satellites would be blinded in some ways, and GPS systems would report inaccurately. This would affect precision navigation, oil drilling, search and rescue, and military targeting. 150 million people in north America would suffer a blackout without any precedent. Components of transformers for which there are no replacements would be damaged and have to be manufactured overseas. The daily cost could be $30 billion in lost salaries, spoiled food, and closures--a larger scale example of the danger of global interconnectedness that the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull showed us earlier this year.