USA TODAY: Solar Flare Could Send Us Back to 19th Century...



(USA TODAY) -- So this week the news is consumed with theSupreme Court, the immigration billEdward Snowden and the NSA scandals, and the IRS scandal and the lingering Benghazi scandal. But behind the scenes there are things going on that may be much more important. Earth-shakingly important, even.

No, I'm not talking about the threat from asteroid strikes. This time, though, I'm talking about a different kind of civilizational threat: A solar flare that could wipe out the communications and electrical grids while frying a wide variety of electronics, quickly sending us back to the 19th Century.

That's happened before. In fact, it happened in the 19th Century, with the "Carrington Event" of 1859. A massive solar flare sent a cloud of charged particles that struck the Earth squarely, creating massive currents in the Earth's magnetic field and sending brilliant auroras south as far as Cuba and Hawaii. About the only thing electrical back then was the telegraph network, and theCarrington event had a literally shocking impact -- causing some operators to be shocked, and inducing strong enough currents in the telegraph wires that operators could disconnect the batteries and operate the telegraph off of the flare-induced electrical flow.

Modern electronics are a lot more sensitive, of course, and a similar event today would fry computers, cell phones, new cars and more. More worryingly, it would probably melt major transformers in the power net, transformers that take months or years to replace and that are expensive enough that few spares are kept. Big chunks of the planet -- all of North America, for example -- might be without electricity for a year or longer.

The disruption would kill a lot of people -- some quickly, as medical devices failed, others later as food supplies and clean water became scarce. Without electricity, pretty much everything in our civilization comes to a stop. The economic damage would be incalculable. Read the entire article via USA Today...


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