The sun occasionally erupts in solar storms that wreak havoc with electronics here on Earth and the White House has ordered the creation of a disaster plan to protect vital systems from destruction.
That might not be enough to protect civilization from destruction, however, and one scientist has called for the creation of a magnetic shield to protect the planet from a massive solar storm.
Joseph Pelton, former dean of France’s International Space University, called on the space agencies of the world to come together to save humanity and build a massive magnetic shield, in a paper published in the scientific journal Room.
“A massive coronal mass ejection that brings millions of tons of ions travelling perhaps at two million kilometers an hour, could leave the world’s economic systems and global infrastructure in shambles.”
Solar storms come in two kinds: solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CME). Solar flares don’t physically harm our planet, but the radiation they produce can damage the computers and communications equipment that have become part of our daily lives.
CME’s are more dangerous, they’re like plasma cannon balls shot out by the sun and if one were to strike our planet it could easily knock out all the power on Earth. That’s why Pelton is calling for the spacefaring nations of the world to build a massive superstructure that could be used to produce an electromagnetic shield, according to the Daily Mail.
“Over the course of the last half century, the world has finally begun to learn that a massive asteroid or comet strike could create havoc and ruin, on perhaps a planetary scale.
“But what we don’t have is a global understanding that there is a much more likely danger that is increasing over time and is a very real cosmic danger that could knock out our electric power grids, kill key satellite systems for communications and navigation and defense.”
There is some cause for Pelton’s concern.
In 1859, the largest solar storm in the past 500 years, the Carrington Event, sparked fires, ignited telegraph machines, and shocked telegraph operators. In 1974, a major solar flare knocked out long-distance phone communication in Illinois and caused AT&T to redesign their transatlantic cables.
Then, in 1989 a relatively small CME knocked out the Hydro-Quebec power network leaving 6 million Canadians in the dark for nine hours. Even scarier, in 2012 the Earth narrowly avoided being hit by a massive solar storm twice as big as the 1989 event, NASA physicist Daniel Baker wrote in a press release.
“If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces. If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire.”
In 2015, the U.K. insurance company Lloyd’s commissioned researchers at Cambridge to discover which of the world’s cities would be most at risk from the effects of a solar storm. In the first study of its kind the researchers determined Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York would suffer the most damaging effects among cities in the United States.
Pelton’s superstructure and subsequent magnetic shield would protect the Earth from any massive solar storm and he’s also suggested it could also be used to collect solar power and solve our planet’s energy crisis.
He’s not the only one worried about the damaging effects of solar storms. In 2014, NASA announced the Earth had a 12 percent chance of being struck by a devastating solar storm within the next 10 years.
The space agency and its partner NOAA has assigned a telescope, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, to permanently stare at the sun and act as an early warning system. In 2015, the White House began working with the National Science and Technology Council to develop a National Space Weather Action Plan.
For everyday citizens, the government recommends preparing a space weather emergency kit, similar to a tornado or earthquake kit with canned food and bottled water. There are also several apps, which can alert users to an imminent solar storm in time for them to take cover.
What do you think of Pelton’s call for the space agencies of the world to come together and create a superstructure capable of creating a magnetic shield to protect the Earth?
[Goddard Space Flight Center/NASA via AP]