Combs Spouts Off

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Posts Tagged ‘emp’

Forget zombies – prepare for a solar storm apocalypse!

Posted by Richard on July 13, 2013

I used to visit Spaceweather.com fairly often. I liked checking out the cool photos, keeping track of the sunspot (in)activity during the recent solar minimum, and checking for good flybys of the International Space Station (ISS) on the Satellite Flybys page. That’s how I was able to watch the spectacular flyby of the ISS being chased across the sky by the shuttle Atlantis. But I got out of the habit of visiting that site.

I was reminded of it today when I saw the /. post When Space Weather Attacks Earth, which points to an interesting Washington Post science article by Brad Plumer. It discusses how vulnerable our modern electrical and electronic systems are to a solar event like the one that happened 154 years ago:

The auroras of 1859, known as the “Carrington Event,” came after the sun unleashed a large coronal mass ejection, a burst of charged plasma aimed directly at the Earth. When the particles hit our magnetosphere, they triggered an especially fierce geomagnetic storm that lit up the sky and frazzled communication wires around the world. Telegraphs in Philadelphia were spitting out “fantastical and unreadable messages,” one paper reported, with some systems unusable for hours.

Today, electric utilities and the insurance industry are grappling with a scary possibility. A solar storm on the scale of that in 1859 would wreak havoc on power grids, pipelines and satellites. In the worst case, it could leave 20 million to 40 million people in the Northeast without power — possibly for years — as utilities struggled to replace thousands of fried transformers stretching from Washington to Boston. Chaos and riots might ensue.

That’s not a lurid sci-fi fantasy. It’s a sober new assessment by Lloyd’s of London, the world’s oldest insurance market. The report notes that even a much smaller solar-induced geomagnetic storm in 1989 left 6 million people in Quebec without power for nine hours.

A coronal mass ejection, if it hits the earth, amounts to a naturally-occurring electromagnetic pulse (EMP). While the consequences wouldn’t be as bad as what’s portrayed in the J.J. Abrams series, Revolution, they could be pretty grim.

Plumer focuses almost entirely on the consequences for the Northeast United States.  I guess that’s partly because the region is especially vulnerable, but I suspect it’s also because for Washington Post writers, nothing outside of the Northeast and California really matters. Still, it’s an interesting article about a frightening possibility. Read the whole thing. You may decide to price generators and look into stockpiling food, water, gas, …

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Electronic Armageddon

Posted by Richard on June 22, 2010

The National Geographic Channel's Explorer program is re-airing "Electronic Armageddon" tonight at 6 PM EDT. The episode is about a threat that could knock out 70% or more of America's power grid for months and permanently destroy countless electronic devices:

What do future presidents need to know about existential dangers this country could face? Explorer investigates the science behind the dangers of a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse, or HEMP. Picture an instantaneous deathblow to the vital engines that power our society, delivered by a nuclear weapon designed not to kill humans but to attack electronics. What could happen if an electromagnetic pulse surged to earth, crippling every aspect of modern society's infrastructure?

An EMP event could be caused naturally by the sun, or it could be caused by a terrorist or rogue state attack. Imagine, for instance, a nuclear Iran putting one of those 1500-mile missiles it's been testing on a freighter, sailing it to somewhere in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, and firing it to create an EMP high over the heartland. 

If you miss the show and want to know more about the EMP threat, visit EMPACT America. You'll find lots of information and resources, including the Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack. There are also several interesting discussions of this issue in the email archives (AprilJuly 2009) of ACT! for America, the activist arm of the American Congress for Truth. This is one of them.

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