The Ends Of The World: Solar Flares

It’s unlikely that solar flares will ever kill us.

That may be an odd way to begin an “Ends of the World” post, but it’s true: so long as the Earth’s magnetosphere remains stable, we’re fine.

Then again, that’s the catch, isn’t it?

The Carrington Event

On September 1, 1859, an electromagnetic storm raged across our planet as Solar Cycle 10 entered its solar maximum. The sky lit up with a brilliant aurora, bright enough to erase the darkness of night, and telegraph systems sparked and malfunctioned, shocking their operators as they struggled to send their messages.

Named after amateur astronomer Richard Carrington, who observed the flare as it happened, the event would come to be known as the Carrington Event, or Carrington Flare, the most powerful solar flare in recorded history.

Fortunately, the “super flare” proved relatively harmless to life on Earth, but its effects on technology at the time — rudimentary as it may seem today — is a shocking reminder of the true destructive nature of our Sun.

The Perfect Electromagnetic Storm

While there are no signs of previous extinction events caused by solar flares, there’s always the possibility that, given just the right circumstances, we could meet the “perfect storm.”

The perfect storm, in this case, might go something like this:

During the Sun’s solar maximum, a coronal mass ejection of great magnitude would “push” the Earth’s magnetosphere closer to the planet’s surface, near ground-level.

Already at this point, we’d see most of our technological infrastructure wiped out.

This would then be followed by a so-called “super flare,” a particularly powerful solar flare. It would be a one-two punch of massive ejections from the sun, the first paving the way for the second, together causing untold devastation on our planet.

This same “one-two punch” could also come as the result of a magnetic pole shift during a solar maximum, followed by a “super flare.”

Neither scenario is likely to occur. But, unluckily for us, we’re just now entering into our Sun’s solar maximum of Solar Cycle 24, and some are warning that the Earth is well overdue for such a magnetic shift.

The Mayan Prophecies

Solar Activity 2011
Image: FlickrNASA/GSFC/SOHO/SDO via CC by 2.0

It all comes back to 2012, doesn’t it?

Without getting into too much detail regarding the legitimacy of the so-called “prophecies” of 2012, it is curious that 2012 — a year associated with so much doom and gloom — coincides with the beginning of a solar maximum. Some have claimed the Earth will undergo a magnetic pole shift around this time, as well, but this is highly unlikely and would probably require some form of external force (planetary collision or a massive asteroid impact, for example).

However, while there’s no evidence of an imminent pole shift here on Earth, the sun itself is predicted to experience its own in 2012.

When the sun reaches its cycle’s solar maximum, it typically experiences a geomagnetic reversal, during which its poles shift. This happens during every cycle, and is apparently a good indicator that the sun has, in fact, reached its solar maximum.

The sun reaches its solar maximum once about every 11 years, the next predicted to occur some time in early 2013. So, if anything is going to happen, it’ll happen in the next year.

Anyway, remember to stock up on canned peas for your bunker.


Rob Schwarz

Writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions.

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