top of page

WHAT IS A SOLAR FLARE?

It is just before midnight of 31st December 2029. The world is ushering in 2030 in style. Suddenly, more than 70% of the cities on the east coast of the United States are in total darkness. Shortly, news emerges that the United Kingdom and Canada are in a similar situation. Africa is then next on the queue. This time round, 80% of the continent’s power grids have blown out. Electrical gadgets are fried. Flights and locomotives in these locations are grounded. There is confusion and fear all over the world. What is the problem?


There is something out there that has the potential to bring life globally into a halt. It threatens to be the single most dangerous threat to civilization. More dangerous than some of the strongest hurricanes, Earthquakes, or even terrorist attacks. Are you wondering what this is all about? This thing is a solar flare. Despite having occurred for millennia, solar flares were first observed and appreciated in the late 1850s. This was the first-time solar flares intersected with our use of electricity. However, things began to change in late 1980s. Canadian scientists reported that in March 1989, a minor solar storm shut down the entire Quebec power grid. Six million customers were affected. The truth is, solar flares are unpredictable but extremely dangerous wild cards. It is imperative that we anticipate and prepare for this wild card. We need to be future smart. Future smartness guarantees a fairly safe landing in a complex future defined by hurricanes of change. Should we worry about solar flares? We will explore the response to this question presently. For now, let us find out what solar flares are all about.


The term solar implies a link to the Sun. The Sun is the specific Star that sits in the centre of our solar system. In this system, the Sun is surrounded by objects such as the Earth and other bodies. As these bodies orbit around the Sun, the latter gives them light and heat. On its surface, the Sun has temporarily dark and relatively cool patches called Sunspots. These Sunspots are comprised of solar electric charges or magnetic fields. Periodically, a buildup of magnetic field occurs in these Sunspots. When this build up hits a certain threshold, the Sunspot busts and produces solar heat and light. This is what is referred to as a solar flare.


The duration of a solar flare can last from minutes to hours. Its impact on Earth varies with the intensity of the solar flare. When a solar flare occurs, heat and charged particles are thrown into the Sun’s outer space where the Earth and other objects are found. The incoming strong solar electrical charges meet with the weak naturally occurring Earth magnetic forces. The stronger solar electrical currents electrify the Earth. Once inside the Earth’s atmosphere, these solar currents flow into power plants, power lines and electrical equipment. The result is instantaneous overloading of these power equipment followed by explosion. This explosion then leads to destruction of power grids and the non-functionality of electrical gadgets. Electrical circuits literally melt.


What then makes the Earth vulnerable to solar flares? First is human activity. Prior to 1859 when the first solar flare grounded telegraphic systems in Europe and North America, there was limited use of electricity. People relied on non-electrical sources of power such as crankshaft and waterwheels. However, over the course of most of the 20th century, there has been a large increase in the use of electricity. The freedom to innovate in today’s digital age has propelled the global community into another level. Almost every gadget, equipment, locomotive and life support system runs directly or indirectly on electrical power. Unfortunately, humanity is more vulnerable today than any other time in the past.


Terrestrial generated electricity is transferred through giant metal grids and long electrical cables. Some of these power cables connect various cities. Unfortunately, both the grids and the cables are not protected or insulated from a solar flare storm. Worse still, the solar flare storm would not require any medium from the Sun to the Earth. This scenario has made the Earth a potential death trap. The second yet lethal change is natural. It has to do with the activities of the Sun itself. Like a snake, the Sun peels of its top layer as it rotates around its anchor sport. As this peeling occurs, more Sunspots with increased heat intensity are exposed. This predisposes the Earth to more flare, increased eruption, and eventually more solar flare storms. It is not certain that this shift in solar activity will be the guaranteed pattern in the future years. However, we have this to watch – the growing warmer temperatures on Earth. Reason? There is a direct correlation between solar flare activity and increasing Earth temperature.


At what point then should humanity make a critical turnaround? It would be unfair not to admit that scientists have made great progress. Lobby groups have aggressively engaged governments on the need to take action. In certain instances, legislators have approved policy papers save for implementation. Scientific techniques are in place to warn about the formation of Sunspots, and predict their sizes and strengths. It is, therefore, a question of adequacy of the current mitigation measures rather than absence of action. Despite the impact of the 1859 Carrington Event and subsequent solar events, humanity has not made a critical shift.


There is limited investment in protecting humanity and civilization against the dangers of a solar flare. The concern over the cost of protecting sources of power seems to override protection of humanity. The fear for legal battles between private power suppliers and governments has archived great solar management policies. Of much concern is how the great freedoms of an exploding digital error have hidden the associated vulnerabilities. In fact, the winning streaks associated with innovations have made developed nations lay down critical guards. Globalization pressures have determined what should prioritized. Albeit all these excuses, the direct correlation between Sunspot activity and the warmer temperatures on Earth is worrying. This undeniable pointer of increased solar activity should concern anyone who cares about the Earth’s safety. Yesterday was the time for critical change. Today is rather later. We therefore cannot wait for tomorrow. Anything lesser than acting now is mockery to humanity and civilization.


The global community is living on a time bomb. A solar flare is not just a wild card but a dangerous one. This explosion from Sunspots is possibly worse than any other attacks the world has experienced before. The Earth, humanity, anything that uses electrical power are at great risk. Unless the global community makes a critical shift regarding this wild card, the Earth will remain a death trap. The very high cost of securing and protecting power sources from solar storms is not worth human life. Delayed decisions to take critical action could suddenly wipe out both human life and decades of gained civilization. There is no need for further evidence that the solar flare is real. The rising Earth temperatures tell the story. Protecting power plants, grids and cables is protecting humanity. Think solar flare, think humanity.


© Anne Kyoya 2021

3 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page