On Friday, we talked about the Carrington Event. A massive solar storm triggered a geomagnetic storm that wrecked the technological infrastructure of the time. Fortunately, this happened in 1859, and the infrastructure that was wrecked were telegraph wires and related equipment.
But what if something like the Carrington Event happened today? Several mini-Carringtons have caused blackouts, the most notable happening in Quebec in 1989, and in 2012 a frighteningly large solar storm just barely missed us. Even minor solar flare activity can wreak havoc on our modern technology.
The good news is that the National Oceanic and Atomospheric Administration (N.O.A.A.) has a Space Weather Prediction Center, located in Boulder, Colorado. Their job: to stare directly at the Sun (using satellites, space probes, and special telescopes). With sufficient warning from the N.O.A.A., we can protect our technologically advanced civilization from the Sun’s temper tantrums.
Thanks to the N.O.A.A., the power stays on, airplanes can navigate safely, and our satellites don’t get fried. In fact, the N.O.A.A.’s Space Weather Prediction Center is so good at what it does that most of us don’t even notice when a solar storm hits, unless it’s to check out the auroras.
P.S.: I said we can protect our technology, and we can; but we haven’t seen anything like the Carrington Event hit Earth since 1859. No one’s entirely sure how well prepared we are for something like that.
Education and Outreach Videos from the Space Weather Prediction Center.
S.W.P.C. Frequently Asked Questions from the Space Weather Prediction Center.
The Sun’s Wrath: Worst Solar Storms in History from Space.com.
Near Miss: The Solar Superstorm of July 2012 from NASA Science.