A gigantic sunspot on the surface of the sun has released an unprecedented six X-Class solar flares just this week. Sunspot AR12192 is about the same size as Jupiter — approximately 14 times larger than Earth. X-Class solar flares are the most powerful type of eruptions from sunspots.
Sunspot AR12192 is not only the largest recorded in 25 years but is so enormous that it can seen from the Earth’s surface without the aid of a telescope or binoculars. Tariq Malik of Space.com told Fox News’ Bill Hemmer that this is the first time in his career that he could stand on the roof of his office building and see a spot on the sun. Malik reminded viewers to wear eclipse glasses or at least good sunglasses, before staring directly into the sun in order to avoid eye damage.
“A giant active region on the sun erupted on [October] 26, 2014, with its sixth substantial flare since Oct. 19. This flare was classified as an X2-class flare and it peaked at 6:56 a.m. EDT. This is the third X-class flare in 48 hours, erupting from the largest active region seen on the sun in 24 years. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, but when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.”
Tony Phillips of Space Weather said, “It would seem to be just a matter of time before another strong explosion occurs.” The recent solar storms have caused temporary blackouts of radio communications systems and radio systems on Earth. Sunspot AR12192 ended many months of near silence on the surface of the Sun.
One recent solar flare originating from Sunspot AR12192 was reportedly a “million times the combined yield of every single weapon on Earth.” NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s Dr. Young said, “It continues to grow in size and complexity.”
The potential for an Earth-directed X-class solar flare to take down America’s overly-taxed power grid is significant. Infrastructure frailties are not a glitzy topic; they are far too mundane for mainstream media to venture away from the latest political scandal or celebrity wardrobe malfunction to discuss, but they are nevertheless important.
The power grid likely would not survive a direct hit by what scientists call a coronal mass ejection, or CME. Scientists have only been able to view, track, and understand solar flares for about the last 20 years. The most powerful known earth-directed solar flare occurred during 1859 and is known as the Carrington Event. Telegraph lines, the most advanced technology at the time, burst into flames. If such a powerful event occurred today, life as we know it in America would cease for quite a long time. The Carrington Event brightened the night sky from the North Pole to Central America, and some New Englanders even read their evening newspapers outside as if it were daytime.
America barely dodged a direct hit by a solar flare in 2012. All modern amenities would have ceased to exist for at least weeks or months due to the solar flare, according to University of Colorado Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics Director Dr. Daniel Baker.
“My space weather colleagues believe that until we have an event that slams Earth and causes complete mayhem, policymakers are not going to pay attention. The message we are trying to convey is that we made direct measurements of the 2012 event and saw the full consequences without going through a direct hit on our planet. Had it hit Earth, the July 2012 event likely would have created a technological disaster by short-circuiting satellites, power grids, ground communication equipment and even threatening the health of astronauts and aircraft crews. These environmental challenges [solar flares] can cause detrimental effects to the electricity grid, satellites, avionics, air passengers, signals from satellite navigation systems, mobile telephones and more. They have consequently been identified as a risk to the world economy and society, ” Dr. Baker noted.
A National Resource Council report Dr. Baker co-authored in 2008 stated that high-energy particles released by a massive solar flare would possibly disrupt communications, the economy, and transportation. The Colorado scientist also accurately noted that the food supply would become limited rather quickly, along with limited to no access to medications and clean drinking water.
Could you survive a downed power grid caused by an X-Class solar flare such as Sunspot AR12192?
[Images via: SLWSTR and Daily Mail]