Sunday, August 29, 2010

More Doomsday Worry: Giant Solar Flares

The list of things to worry about is endless. There is something morbid about working hard to find new catastrophes to worry about...

What I find funny about this new "worry" is that cycle 24, the current solar cycle that is building toward a maximum, is in fact puny. It is the weakest since the Dalton Minimum early in the 19th century. You would think that somebody who wants to scare people would pick on something that actually shows signs of being unusually big and scary. Who's afraid of puny, weak Cycle 24?

I guess you can blame NASA for Michio Kaku's decision to "go public" with dire warnings. The predicted size of this peak has been downgraded, see NASA news report. But in that release, NASA says:
It is tempting to describe such a cycle as "weak" or "mild," but that could give the wrong impression.

"Even a below-average cycle is capable of producing severe space weather," points out Biesecker. "The great geomagnetic storm of 1859, for instance, occurred during a solar cycle of about the same size we’re predicting for 2013."

The 1859 storm--known as the "Carrington Event" after astronomer Richard Carrington who witnessed the instigating solar flare--electrified transmission cables, set fires in telegraph offices, and produced Northern Lights so bright that people could read newspapers by their red and green glow. A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences found that if a similar storm occurred today, it could cause $1 to 2 trillion in damages to society's high-tech infrastructure and require four to ten years for complete recovery. For comparison, Hurricane Katrina caused "only" $80 to 125 billion in damage.
A more detailed set of updated predictions for cycle 24 is here.

I'm not going to lose any sleep over this. There are plenty of "possible" trillion dollar disasters lurking out there. You would work yourself to death and spend yourself broke trying to defend against the many, many threats. Until the science is better and can make solid predictions, I say "save your money, don't prepare for something that probably won't happen!"

For those who want to stay on top of this "coming disaster", here's the appropriate Wikipedia page to track for daily -- if not hourly -- updates.

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