Thursday Throughput: Solar Cycle Edition
[ThTh1] In September of 1859, a massive blast of radiation erupted from the surface of the Sun. These happen all the time, particularly when the Sun is in the most active part of its 11-year life cycle. But this one was different in two ways. First, it was a gigantic eruption, one of the largest ever recorded. And second, it was aimed right at Earth.
When it hit our atmosphere, the interaction of charged particles and the Earth’s magnetic field created induced a massive geomagnetic storm. Aurorae were so powerful, people could read by them and they were seen as far south as Cuba and Hawaii. The induced current caused telegraph systems to overload, shocking operators and starting fires. Two years later, the US erupted into Civil War.
OK, that last one might not have been related.
If such a storm were to hit today, the consequences would be disastrous. Satellites would be fried and our power grid might completely collapse. The economic damage of such an event in the United States alone is estimated to be anywhere up to a couple of trillion dollars. In March 1989, a smaller storm fried transformers and knocked out power in Quebec. In 2012, a Carrington-sized event occurred but missed Earth by a small amount.
The good news is that we don’t just have to lie down and take this. We can harden the grid with devices that can absorb excess electrical power. And if we had prior warning of an event, we could shut the grid down and mitigate the worst of it. This process isn’t cheap — you’re probably looking at tens of billions of dollars. But the potential cost of not doing it is much greater. And it’s only a matter of time.
I bring this up because the Sun has just entered a new solar cycle. It wills soon ramp up to its maximum activity. The prediction is that it will be as intense as the last cycle was. And while that cycle was comparatively gentle, it did have a Carrington-sized eruption.
In other words, the clock continues to tick. And it’s about time we did something about it.
[ThTh2] I will never not like astrophotography.
The ISS and Mars cross paths above San Diego on Sept. 14, 2020 at 05:15:47PDT. Transit line was ~90m wide on the ground.
Stills: https://t.co/t9EcOTQttL pic.twitter.com/VzSP4xfdgP
— Tom Glenn (@thomasdglenn) September 22, 2020
[ThTh3] What creature is the deadliest to humans? Sharks? Lions? Bats? Ants? Nope. It’s mosquitos. Those tiny disease-spreading vermin may have killed as many as 50 billion of us over their long history. Second place might go to the flea of the black rat, which spread the bubonic plague.
[ThTh4] Under certain circumstances, a planet can be bigger than its star (although less massive).
[ThTh5] A wonderful illustration of how microwaves work. They are literally light waves cooking your burrito. They’re just too big to get through the little holes in the grating.
You can measure the speed of light at home using just a microwave and a bar of chocolate! pic.twitter.com/9kyZM45uNY
— David Berardo (@CentrlPotential) September 20, 2020
[ThTh6] What candy can teach us about rock formations.
[ThTh7] You remember that amazing picture of the black hole? It’s changing even as we watch.