Victims of our own success

Until about five minutes before I started writing this,  I literally had no idea on what subject I was going to focus on for this week’s blog, but  then I saw a post from one of my friends on Facebook (naturally!) about a possible impending solar flare within the next few days and it reminded me of a story that my husband was recently relating to me.

As you would expect, I was only partially listening to him on account that the introduction to the said story contained the words ‘catastrophic’, ‘youtube video’ and ‘….was really interesting’.
These are normally the keywords that trigger me to mentally switch off or zone out but to ensure that I randomly utter the odd “Oh?” and “Hmmm. Interesting!” at various intervals during the next few minutes or until I hear him stop talking. Hee Hee Hee…clever me! 

As a slight digression at this point, I do sometimes wonder about the wonderful timing of some of these ‘news events’. I mean I’m currently looking out the window at this cold, wet, grey miserable ‘Spring’ (apparently!) day, with not so much as even a hint of the sun, never mind some potentially cataclysmic event. It’s literally been pissing it down non stop for about three days now and showing no signs of letting up anytime soon.
Has Mark Zuckerberg’s defence team been working tirelessly around the clock to drum up some fake news to keep us all totally distracted whilst he squirms in his seat, in his conservative, blue suit that makes him look like a small child who is going to a wedding,  with his robotic answers to basic questions? What an oily little git he is!

Credit: Unknown, Depicted: TWAT IN A BLUE SUIT

But, let’s just assume that this news about possible solar flares is genuine and has absolutely nothing to do with diverting news coverage from Mark Fuckerberg’s mea culpa routine!

So, having decided to plough ahead with a blog on this exciting possible news event, I thought I’d better do a little bit of research before I start because I’m not all that au fait with the science behind it all!

I was quite confused as to the many reported stories on the “BIGGEST SOLAR EVENT EVER” that are out there and what is to be believed. I do of course understand that if one article was written in 2003 and subsequent to that, there is an even more major event that this, will then supercede the previous occurrence by becoming the ‘new’ biggest, but still I was left trying to pick my way between solar events that had actually happened versus those that were simply predicted and also those that had genuinely impacted or affected Earth and those that had been huge and collossal but that had little or no affect due to the direction in which the Coronal Mass Ejection was expelled.

Coronal Mass Ejection, what a lovely little phrase that is in the mouth. I have no idea what I’m talking about but I just love saying it. A bit like when I will suddenly just blurt out:

“Phased Plasma rifle in 40-watt range”
“Hey, just what you see pal!
“Uzi 9mm”
(The Terminator, 1984)

 As a stand-alone statement, the above means precisely nothing but akin to“Oh poor old Sir Anthony Strallan” I just like to punctuate a conversation with it occasionally, so now I can add ‘Coronal Mass Ejection’ to my list of startling but somewhat pointless, random exclamations and interjections.

Needless to say that all of these scientific journals soon had me wishing that I had never started on this particular path, it also had me wishing that I had a gallon of freshly made Mojito to hand, a family pack of roast chicken and thyme crisps and a free afternoon in which to start watching season two of Doctor Foster on Netflix but given that it is already Thursday and I will be travelling all day tomorrow, I really can not put off the ‘formation’ of this week’s blog any longer, not to mention that if said solar flare event occurs in the next few days, I might not even be able to successfully post this blog and then my tireless and exhaustive research (at least twenty whole minutes) will have been for nothing.

Suffice to say I quickly abandoned the definitive ‘factual’ research and will instead just wing it with some brief layman’s explanations and a credited article or two.

So, without further ado and for those of you who don’t already know (which admittedly included me until all of twenty minutes ago) a Coronal Mass Ejection(CME) is the release of plasma and magnetic field from the solar corona (the outermost part of the sun’s atmosphere), a CME is normally as a result of a prolonged solar flare or solar eruption during which a cloud of plasma and energy is blown away or expelled from the sun and can cause electromagnetic energy to be released.  I can’t really be bothered to go into any more scientific explanation about it all as it starts to get very nerdy, plus I didn’t really understand it all but basically, the point I am trying to get to is that a CME could create a giant EMP (electromagnetic pulse).

CME = EMP

Wow, I feel like a real scientist using an ‘equals’ sign!

The biggest solar flare event that has actually impacted Earth to date occurred during the nineteenth century, 1st September 1859 to be exact and is now referred to as the Carrington Event, named after the British scientist and astronomer Richard C Carrington who witnessed this unique event and as a result was the first scientist to establish a direct connection between the sun’s activity and any geomagnetic disturbances back here on Earth.

At the time of this event in 1859, there were few negative impacts from the huge electromagnetic disturbances that came as a result of the solar storm and the coronal mass ejection. Technology had not yet reached a level where the massive EMP could wreak havoc, though it was widely reported that telegraph systems across Europe and the United States failed and in some instances the telegraph operators received electric shocks which I like to think that perhaps, in turn, called for the immediate use of some strong smelling salts and possibly even a quick, sharp tap around the face and the unlacing of a corset or two in some very extreme cases. Who knows? I wasn’t there. For the most part, however, the reporting of the event was limited to the brilliant auroras and illuminations that could be witnessed far and wide across the globe during the spectacular event.

Fast forward a century and a half and the realities of a repeat event soon become abundantly clear.

Credit: sciencedaily.com
THE BIGGEST SOLAR X-RAY FLARE EVER IS CLASSIFIED AS X28
6 November 2003
It has been announced that the massive solar X-ray flare which occurred on 4 November was, at best estimate, an X28. There is still a small chance this will be revised by a small amount, but it is now official: We have a new number 1 X-ray flare for the record books, the most powerful in recorded observational history.
On Tuesday, 4 November 2003, this flare saturated the X-ray detectors on several monitoring satellites. The associated coronal mass ejection (CME) came out of the Sun’s surface at about 2300 kilometres per second (8.2 million km/h). Only part of the CME is directed towards Earth, so we expect the Earth will receive only a glancing blow, since the source region is pointing away from us on the right on the limb of the Sun as seen from Earth.

 And according to spaceref.com:
On 4 November 2003, the largest solar flare ever recorded exploded from the Sun’s surface. Before the storm peaked, x-rays overloaded the detectors on the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES), forcing scientists to estimate the flare’s size. 
Taking a different route, researchers from the University of Otago used radio wave-based measurements of the x-rays’ effects on the Earth’s upper atmosphere to revise the flare’s size from a merely huge X28 to a “whopping” X45.

Effectively rewriting history to:
THE BIGGEST SOLAR X-RAY FLARE EVER IS CLASSIFIED AS X45

The reason that this solar flare and it’s accompanying CME in 2003 (or the one subsequently reported as the BIGGEST SOLAR FLARE EVER in 2012) was not a cataclysmic event here on Earth was because it was practically guided in the complete opposite direction, away from us, and the reason for this is that the Earth orbits the sun, which in turn means that at any time we are on only one side of the sun.

Had this or any other huge solar event occurred at a different point in our 365 day orbital period of the sun, then the situation could be very different.

For instance, if the solar flare event of 1859 which did actually have some affects on Earth, re-occurred today it would have significant, devastating impacts.

Back in 1859, a few days without the functionality of telegraph machines would probably be considered a ‘minor inconvenience’ but a similar level of electromagnetic disruption today would render systems across the globe useless.

  • It would start by frying all the electrics in all the satellites that currently orbit Earth. The same satellites that provide our enormous network of communications.
  • Without these satellites, we would have no internet network and that’s when the shit really starts to hit the fan. It’s not just a case of ‘No Facebook’
  • No navigation controls; flights and ships would be grounded which also means, No Air Force, No Navy.
  • No communications: Governments would not be able to remain in control.
  • Emergency services would be overrun and also impossible to contact.
  • Power stations would be out of action if they are system dependent.
  • Computer networks would fail completely until all circuit boards that were affected by EMP were replaced. That is potentially every circuit board in every computer, mainframe and server fried and offline until repairs could be achieved, not to mention the plethora of other machines that also rely on circuit boards to remain functional.
  • Most modern vehicles would be off the road, pending repairs.
  • With every computer system in the world offline, that means practically ZERO services; emergency services could not be contacted, hospitals would be desperately affected, no banking systems would remain operational, water and electricity services would likely stop in most parts of the world, food deliveries and essential supplies would grind to a halt as they are generally wholly dependent on a combination of those things affected: computer systems, automated warehouses, communication and vehicles.
  • Supplies would be scarce until systems were either fully recovered or other more basic procedures were implemented
  • We would not easily be able to contact our wider spread family and friends until such time that rudimentary postal services came back online
  • We would have very little protection from those seeking to be lawless since calling for help would be difficult until such systems were back online.
  • Crime would undoubtedly rise
  • The unfortunate reality is that when a catastrophic event occurs it can bring out the very best in some people and the very worst in others.

Effectively if such a thing were to occur now, then every single aspect of our lives would be drastically affected and who knows how long it would take before the global situation improved significantly Days? Weeks? Months? Years? Never?

For many years now, post-apocalyptic films like The Omega Man, Mad Max, The Postman, The Road, I am Legend and 28 Days Later, to name but a few, have centered on the destruction and chaos as a result of a nuclear war or a virus outbreak or epidemic, but it really would not require anything quite so dramatic to really throw us into complete and utter chaos.

Just a simple solar storm at the right, or should I say the wrong, time.

It would be like being plunged back into the end of the nineteenth century, which at first doesn’t sound like the worst thing in the world, it’s only a hundred and forty years ago, after all, I mean they survived ok didn’t they?

Yes, they did, but it was their world, they weren’t being thrown backwards after enormous cultural and technological advancements. They were used to life as it was then.

The point is, that most of us have no clue how to immediately survive in a world that is pre-technology, pre-widespread electricity.

As a species, we would inevitably become victims of our own enormous success.

I agree that it’s a very alarmist and potentially unlikely situation, but it also makes you think about how useless many of us really are when push comes to shove. Some people can’t even boil an egg!

On that note, I’m off to do the following:

  • Learn how to purify water or I could just buy some life straws!
  • Learn how to be self-sufficient
  • Learn how to shoot. both for hunting and protection
  • Learn basic first aid
  • Learn what flora fauna and fungi are edible
  • Download a shitload of films in case the internet goes offline!!!!!

Happy pondering people and as always, happy weekend.
The Virtual Recluse

P.S. NO FACTS WERE SERIOUSLY HARMED IN THE MAKING OF THIS WEEK’S BLOG POST