This is quite an article. Read the whole thing to understand how this all works and how utterly unprepared we are for it.

Wired has some articles about our power grid: here, here, here and here.

IT IS midnight on 22 September 2012 and the skies above Manhattan are filled with a flickering curtain of colourful light. […] Within 90 seconds, the entire eastern half of the US is without power.

A year later and millions of Americans are dead and the nation’s infrastructure lies in tatters. The World Bank declares America a developing nation. Europe, Scandinavia, China and Japan are also struggling to recover from the same fateful event – a violent storm, 150 million kilometres away on the surface of the sun.

It sounds ridiculous. Surely the sun couldn’t create so profound a disaster on Earth. Yet an extraordinary report funded by NASA and issued by the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in January this year claims it could do just that.
The surface of the sun is a roiling mass of plasma – charged high-energy particles – some of which escape the surface and travel through space as the solar wind. From time to time, that wind carries a billion-tonne glob of plasma, a fireball known as a coronal mass ejection (see “When hell comes to Earth“). If one should hit the Earth’s magnetic shield, the result could be truly devastating.

The incursion of the plasma into our atmosphere causes rapid changes in the configuration of Earth’s magnetic field which, in turn, induce currents in the long wires of the power grids. The grids were not built to handle this sort of direct current electricity. The greatest danger is at the step-up and step-down transformers used to convert power from its transport voltage to domestically useful voltage. The increased DC current creates strong magnetic fields that saturate a transformer’s magnetic core. The result is runaway current in the transformer’s copper wiring, which rapidly heats up and melts. This is exactly what happened in the Canadian province of Quebec in March 1989, and six million people spent 9 hours without electricity. But things could get much, much worse than that.

  1. green says:

    Bah. Military satellites will be the ones dropping fire and brimstone from the sky in 2012. Not the sun, aliens, or planet x.

  2. Tim Yates says:

    Well, this seems a bit more important than a financial bailout doesn’t it?

  3. Widgethead says:

    So, now I have another doomsday scenario to worry about. Global warming, global cooling, carbon based fuels, Frankenstein food (genetic engineering),stem cell research, wrath of god, it’s never ending…clutches heart and dies, to much stress I guess.

  4. Somebody_Else says:

    The chances of one of these mass ejections hiting Earth dead on is pretty low, as is the chance that its actually large enough and has the correct properties to cause damage.

    I won’t be losing any sleep over it.

  5. ArianeB says:

    Read the article, just such an event happened in 1859, destroying telegraph wires. It is bound to happen eventually.

    2012 is approximately the next sunspot activity peak, hence the reason for the date in the article, but we have had many sunspot peaks (they happen every 11 to 12 years or so) with nothing close to 1859.

  6. Dallas says:

    Maybe the Republicans are right, no point upgrading our infrastructure if Apollo, the Sun God will throw his spear in 2012.

  7. DjAtwill says:

    Why “the entire eastern half of the US is without power?”

    What about the west coast?

  8. smartalix says:

    So the Aztecs were right!

  9. Named says:


    Well done!

  10. Benji says:

    Repent. Clean the planet now and convert to clean energy before it’s too late. Science will set you free.

  11. Mr Diesel says:

    Aztecs, Nostradamus and every other whacko is predicting the end of the world in 2012.

    It’s also the end of four years under the Messiah Obomba.

    What did you expect.

  12. Thomas says:

    I think you mean the Mayans.

  13. JoaoPT says:

    Thank God, Obama has devoted a large chunk of the stimulus package to the development and deployment of the smart power grid.


  14. And Now for Something Completely Different says:


    I’ll add this “real emergency” to my list including killer bees from Mexico, SARS, bird flue, Y2K computer crashes and all the other non-sense media made up garbage that was supposed to kill me by now. Oh by the way, margarine is good, butter will kill you…NO..margarine will kill you, butter is good. Take fish oil! No just Omega 3! No it’s the Adkins diet stupid! Artificial sugar is good…no bad. Er, it’s all so obvious!

  15. Paddy-O says:

    1859 gave us a taste. If it flares as it did then, our grid will go down hard. It’ll be a pain in the rear.

  16. Orangetiki says:

    enough with the subversive movie ads already

  17. Winston says:

    This is old “news.”

    The Great Storm: Solar Tempest of 1859 Revealed
    27 October 2003

    Scientists worry about solar superstorm
    Sun capable of unleashing geomagnetic blast that could cost tens of billions
    May. 2, 2006

  18. BubbaRay says:

    What ridiculous FUD. There is no data to support a larger than average solar maximum in 2012. If anything, data tends to project we’re entering another Maunder Minimum, thus smaller than average solar maxima. CME’s occur frequently at the peak of the solar cycle, but the odds of one large enough to do significant damage hitting us head on are very small (thanks, #4).

  19. dusanmal says:

    @#18: Actually, data is confusing right now. There are groups expecting increasing activity and groups expecting decreasing activity (few years ago consensus was on decreasing activity). It is one of those things where we will need to wait and see who had the correct interpretation. That is Science…
    But it is still one of those rare but possible cases as being hit by huge asteroid or comet…

  20. #16 is probably close to the truth. When I start seeing this sort of “material” I’m wondering what movie is coming out shortly about this exact subject.

  21. Winston says:

    Here’s some significant science news. Can’t post the many links because the post gets labeled as spam:

    ‘Cold Fusion’ Rebirth? New Evidence For Existence Of Controversial Energy Source

    ScienceDaily (Mar. 23, 2009) — Researchers are reporting compelling new scientific evidence for the existence of low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR), the process once called “cold fusion” that may promise a new source of energy. One group of scientists, for instance, describes what it terms the first clear visual evidence that LENR devices can produce neutrons, subatomic particles that scientists view as tell-tale signs that nuclear reactions are occurring.

  22. Mr Fission says:

    #10 clean energy has nothing to do with it. Even clean power travels on wire and uses transformers and that is exactly what is susceptible here. Get over yourself.

  23. Raff says:

    If nothing else, it’ll be a good year for skip!

    Cq Cq Cq Dx…

  24. StuFisch says:

    No, no, No !!!

    It’s the SUPERVOLCANO ARMEGGEDON in 2012 — get out of Jackson Hole, WHILE YOU CAN !!!

    I’m moving to the Northwest with enough materials to make SMORES for at least 2 years !!!

  25. B.Dog says:

    If the Sun is a threat and does not cave in to reasonable demands then it must be attacked.

  26. joe says:

    I saw this movie over the weekend, it’s the new Nick Cage movie Knowing

  27. Ultraslug says:

    From the article:

    … it could cost tens of millions of lives, Kappenman reckons. “It could conceivably be the worst natural disaster possible,” he says.

    It’s silly statements like this that strain credulity. The temporary loss of our electric grid would be worse than, say, a 4-mile wide comet striking the earth?

    I’m reminded of the Onion headline after the east coast power outage some years back: “Blackout Survivors Recount Tales of Harrowing Inconvenience.”

  28. MikeN says:

    You exploit the sun for free light heat and electricity. You should expect that one day it’ll fight back.

  29. MikeN says:

    Some people are surrendering.

    Terry Frewin, a local Sierra Club representative, said he had tough questions for state regulators. “Deserts don’t need to be sacrificed so that people in L.A. can keep heating their swimming pools,” Mr. Frewin said.

  30. amodedoma says:

    I’ve been preparing faraday cages and surge surpressors just in case. I never did trust that big burning ball of gas. There’s a level of technology that I’m not willing to live without. The worst part would be the loss of communications infrastructure. It could mean the death of the internet. GASP!


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