Monday, September 20, 2010
The Carrington Flare
It made me think, as every power outage does, how woefully unprepared I am for being thrown back into the first half of the 19th century. But I don't worry about it over much, because I live in the 21st century. No big deal, right?
Oh, well, provided we don't have a solar superstorm, like the 1859 Carrington Flare.
Named after the British solar astronomer who witnessed the five-minute-duration superflare emerge from a huge group of sunspots, it was the single largest solar eruption in record history. An aurora borealis, so bright you could read at night, was seen as far south as Cuba. Telegraph wires, overloaded with charged particles, went haywire. Spark discharges shocked telegraph operators. And that, in 1859, was about that.
Oh, but if it happened today? Well, all the satellites, all 900+ of them up there in orbit, are hopelessly fried. There is nothing we can do to shield them from the x-rays, charged protons, and detached magnetic loops that would fry them. The only thing to do is replace them. So, say good bye to cable TV, satellite radio, Internet, GPS, long distance phones for several years.
Power lines and transformers would be overloaded. Say goodbye to electric power for (depending where you are) several weeks to several months. Let's hope its not during the winter.
Like to drive? Got a generator? No gas. The pumps at the station are powered with electric motors. Like to drink water? Same deal. Like food? Same deal. In fact, technological civilization in the developed world is down for the count for at least several weeks. Probably several months.
But then, if you watch one of those ghoulish masturbatory programs on Discover or History channel, you probably have already been spooked by this.
So why bring this up now? Actually, this particular essay resulted from a conversation with particularly arrogant bonehead software engineer, who feels particularly invulnerable about his position in life right now. He has no sympathies for those less fortunate in the current economic climate. He considers them parasites, a ball and chain on successful hard-working Americans. He'd rather be "dirt poor than accept a government handout".
In short, he's an asshole. Been raised as an asshole by assholes. Will always be an asshole and as already spawned asshole progeny. He and his selfish dipshit ilk will one day be responsible for the end of civilization as we know it.
A solar flare would be just the thing to take him down a peg or two.
Ah, but like all assholes, he's not worth it, nor would he learn from it.
Certainly not worth the end of civilization to get an "I told you so" out of the deal.