Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Solar Flares and EMP

From Clifford May, writing in National Review:
... The EMP commission also reported that Iran — which is feverishly working to acquire nuclear weapons — has conducted tests in which it launched missiles and exploded warheads at high altitudes. The CIA has translated Iranian military journals in which EMP attacks against the U.S. are explicitly discussed.

Might Iran’s rulers orchestrate such an attack if and when they acquire nuclear capability? That is a heated debate among defense experts. But what is almost never discussed is the threat of a naturally occurring EMP event.

I first learned about this possibility a few months ago at a conference organized by Empact America, a bipartisan, non-profit organization concerned exclusively with the EMP challenge. Scientists there explained “severe space weather” — in particular, storms on the surface of the sun that could trigger an EMP event.

The strongest solar storm on record is the Carrington Event of 1859, named after Richard Carrington, an astronomer who witnessed the super solar flare that set off the event as he was projecting an image of the sun onto a white screen. In those days, of course, there was nothing much to damage. A high-intensity burst of electromagnetic energy shot through telegraph lines, disrupting communications, shocking technicians, and setting their papers on fire. Northern Lights were visible as far south as Cuba and Hawaii. But otherwise life went on as normal.

The same would not be true were a solar storm of similar magnitude to erupt today. Instead, the infrastructure we depend on would be wiped out. Most of us would not adapt well to this sudden return to a pre-industrial age. ...

Article here.

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