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What Would Happen if a Solar Mass Ejection Struck the Earth?

I’ve explained what a solar mass ejection is and how dangerous it would be if it struck the earth squarely, but I didn’t describe the main points of the disaster it would cause. So what would happen if a solar mass ejection struck the earth ‘head-on’?

First, it should be explained that Earth’s magnetic field acts as a buffer, deflecting most of the harmful solar radiation and ionized particles. In the image produced by the Jet Propulsion Laboratories, there is a visual representation of how the magnetic field deflects the rays from the sun.

The magnetic field is forced into a sideways teardrop shape as the side facing the sun is forced toward the surface of the earth and the side on the other side of the earth is drawn out into a ‘tail’, not unlike the tail of a comet. The radiation streaming from the sun is called the solar wind and the stronger it is, the closer to the ground the magnetic field is forced.

If the earth was hit with a strong solar mass ejection, the radiation, and energy from that radiation would be hundreds to over a thousand times stronger than what normally strikes the magnetic field. The magnetic field would be pushed much closer to the earth’s surface. The radiation would still most likely be kept from actually hitting the surface, but that isn’t the true danger.

The energy would easily be enough to blackout every satellite orbiting the earth. It would impact as a vast EMP or Electro-Magnetic Pulse. If you don’t think this would be a disaster, consider this. Without the satellites, there would be no Internet. Over 95% of the world’s financial transactions are tied to the internet. Most communications are also currently carried out using the satellites. Most of the money in the world isn’t actually currency, it is stored electronically and transmitted over the Internet. All of this would stop when the satellites shut down.

No communication would also mean that worldwide shipping would come to a halt. Nothing could be ordered and orders outside of the local area couldn’t be fulfilled. Supplies that people rely upon wouldn’t be delivered.

It gets worse. Such a powerful EMP could also knock out electrical grids, worldwide, as well as all electronic devices. Many of those devices would be so overwhelmed that the electronics would be fried and unusable. There would be no power or electronics and if electrical grids weren’t taken off-line before the mass ejection struck, they would have to be remanufactured from scratch.

We are now in the technological era and almost everything relies on electronics now. Just imagine if none of the electronics in your home worked anymore. Incidentally, that also includes cars, planes, ships, and trains. None of these can operate without electronics anymore. It could take weeks or months, possibly longer, to recover. Even electronics that weren’t destroyed still wouldn’t be usable until the solar ejection was passed.

None of this is supposition, either. Such a solar-driven outage occurred decades ago in southeast Canada, taking down the power grid there and in the northeast US. At the time, we were nowhere close to being as reliant on technology as we are today, so the recovery didn’t take all that long and the problem was mostly localized.

Imagine if it was worldwide, with everything hinging on technology as it does today. The worst part of all is that it isn’t a case of if we get hit by a solar mass ejection, but when we get hit. It is virtually certain to happen, we just don’t know when.

  • Do you have any contingency plans in place if you lost all power and communication?

    • Yes
    • No
    • I didn’t think it was needed, until now
    • I’ll just take my chances
    • I’m still not worried in the slightest

What do you think?

15 points

Written by Rex Trulove

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    • It is interesting that scientists still have no idea what happens when the earth’s magnetic poles reverse. They don’t know how long it takes or if the magnetic field collapses until the poles reverse. There simply weren’t many people around the last time it happened. 🙂

    • I can believe that. Out of 7.5 billion people, that is actually not a very large number and it might be much higher. There are also a lot of variables that make it difficult to figure. The EM pulse would knock out aircraft engines, so lots of planes are going to go down, most of which will kill everyone on board. All vehicle engines would also fail and although cars can coast to a stop, there isn’t a doubt that people traveling at freeway speeds would over-react. There would also be no way to get emergency services to those accident victims. Hospitals would go dark, resulting in lots of deaths. Nuclear power plants would overload.

      It goes on and on, and this doesn’t even count longer-term consequences. Two million deaths might be a great underestimate.

    • I can’t help but contemplate things like this when I hear some of the petty things that people often worry about, most of which are things that ‘might’ happen and might not happen. Mass ejections do occur, so it isn’t a question of “if”, but rather “when”.

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