Coronal Mass Ejection (CME)

Started by Z.O.R.G., July 23, 2023, 08:29:07 PM

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I started paying attention to sunspots and related things when I started playing HF radio. The more I learned the more interested I became in what they could do. Looking at it from a preparedness perspective they can be pretty interesting too.

A Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) is an ejection of electrically charged plasma from the sun. They occur most frequently during the maximum of the 11 year solar cycle of sun spots. We're currently in the 25th solar cycle since we understood it an started taking records. So far this cycle is exceeding predictions. (from Wikipedia)
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A CME typically travels from the sun to the earth's orbit in 1-5 days. Per Wikipedia the average mass of a CME is around 1.7 billion pounds. If a CME hits the earth directly or even with a glancing blow, it's visible to us as the northern lights, can disrupt magnetic compass, damage/disrupt satellites, can create a geomagnetic storm that can disrupt radio communications and could damage electronics similar to an EMP if it's strong enough.

Most CME cross the earth's orbit without coming anywhere near us, but notable ones have happened in the past. The most famous one was the Carrington Event in 1859 and made it to earth in less than 18 hours. (That's 93,000,000 miles which is over 5 million miles/hour...) It created northern lights visible all the way to Columbia. It induced a current in telegraph lines that shocked some operators and some telegraph stations we able to operate on the induced current for about two hours – without batteries.

More recent events include
  • 1921 New York Railroad Storm which started a telegraph fire near Grand Central Station and affected telegraphs in North America, Europe and some in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • March 1989 CME/Geomagnetic storm which caused extensive power blackouts in Quebec.
  • In 2012 a Carrington level CME missed the earth by about 9 days.

So how often to CME(s) happen? I haven't been able to find any real data prior to the widespread use of radios and electronics. In 2019 a study (also from them Wikipedia page) estimated the probability of a Carrington level event striking the earth in the next decade between 0.46% and 1.88%. For comparison, post COVID-19 studies calculate the probability of a large scale pandemic to be about 2% for any given year.

What could happen? Power outages due to tripped circuits & damaged transformers – and all the side effect of an extended power outage. Degraded/Destroyed satellites – GPS, communication, weather, etc. Internet, cellphone and land line interruption/destruction (large network hubs use GPS for time synchronization and most switches/routers electronics wouldn't survive a EMP-like voltage/current spike). Fires started by sparking power lines, transformers and/or substation overloads or electronics connected to the grid or internet. Some estimates for repair the damage of a Carrington level event range from 1-4 years. This would be catastrophic for urban areas. For example, how do you get water without electricity?

On the positive side, it might just stop an AI takeover in its tracks...   :smiley_devil:

Here are some links to current information on solar flares, CME and other such info.

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