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In scientific circles where solar flares, magnetic storms and other unique solar events are discussed, the occurrences of September 1-2, 1859, are the star stuff of legend. Even 144 years ago, many of Earth's inhabitants realized something momentous had just occurred. Within hours, telegraph wires in both the United States and Europe spontaneously shorted out, causing numerous fires, while the Northern Lights, solar-induced phenomena more closely associated with regions near Earth's North Pole, were documented as far south as Rome, Havana and Hawaii, with similar effects at the South Pole.
An ultraviolet-wavelength picture of the sun taken by the ESA/NASA
Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) on Oct. 23, 2003.
What happened in 1859 was a combination of several events that occurred on the Sun at the same time. If they took place separately they would be somewhat notable events. But together they caused the most potent disruption of Earth's ionosphere in recorded history. "What they generated was the perfect space storm," says Bruce Tsurutani, a plasma physicist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
To begin to understand the perfect space storm you must first begin to understand the gargantuan numbers with which plasma physicists like Tsurutani work every day. At over 1.4 million kilometers (869,919 miles) wide, the Sun contains 99.86 percent of the mass of the entire solar system: well over a million Earths could fit inside its bulk. The total energy radiated by the Sun averages 383 billion trillion kilowatts, the equivalent of the energy generated by 100 billion tons of TNT exploding each and every second.
But the energy released by the Sun is not always constant. Close inspection of the Sun's surface reveals a turbulent tangle of magnetic fields and boiling arc-shaped clouds of hot plasma dappled by dark, roving sunspots.
Once in a while--exactly when scientists still cannot predict--an event occurs on the surface of the Sun that releases a tremendous amount of energy in the form of a solar flare or a coronal mass ejection, an explosive burst of very hot, electrified gases with a mass that can surpass that of Mount Everest.
These Northern Lights appeared over Wisconsin on Oct. 22, 2003.
During the superstorm of 1859, such lights appeared as far south as
Cuba and Hawaii. Photo copyright Chris VenHaus
What transpired during the dog days of summer 1859, across the 150 million-kilometer (about 93 million-mile) chasm of interplanetary space that separates the Sun and Earth, was this: on August 28, solar observers noted the development of numerous sunspots on the Sun's surface. Sunspots are localized regions of extremely intense magnetic fields. These magnetic fields intertwine, and the resulting magnetic energy can generate a sudden, violent release of energy called a solar flare. From August 28 to September 2 several solar flares were observed. Then, on September 1, the Sun released a mammoth solar flare. For almost an entire minute the amount of sunlight the Sun produced at the region of the flare actually doubled.
"With the flare came this explosive release of a massive cloud of magnetically charged plasma called a coronal mass ejection," said Tsurutani. "Not all coronal mass ejections head toward Earth. Those that do usually take three to four days to get here. This one took all of 17 hours and 40 minutes," he noted.
SOHO coronagraphs captured this movie of a coronal mass ejection (CME)
heading toward Earth on Oct. 22nd. NOAA forecasters expect the CME to
cause a geomagnetic storm when it reaches Earth on or about Oct. 24th 2003,
but not as severe as the superstorm of 1859.
Not only was this coronal mass ejection an extremely fast mover, the magnetic fields contained within it were extremely intense and in direct opposition with Earth's magnetic fields. That meant the coronal mass ejection of September 1, 1859, overwhelmed Earth's own magnetic field, allowing charged particles to penetrate into Earth's upper atmosphere. The endgame to such a stellar event is one heck of a light show and more -- including potential disruptions of electrical grids and communications systems.
Back in 1859 the invention of the telegraph was only 15 years old and society's electrical framework was truly in its infancy. A 1994 solar storm caused major malfunctions to two communications satellites, disrupting newspaper, network television and nationwide radio service throughout Canada. Other storms have affected systems ranging from cell phone service and TV signals to GPS systems and electrical power grids. In March 1989, a solar storm much less intense than the perfect space storm of 1859 caused the Hydro-Quebec (Canada) power grid to go down for over nine hours, and the resulting damages and loss in revenue were estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
"The question I get asked most often is, 'Could a perfect space storm happen again, and when?'" added Tsurutani.
"I tell people it could, and it could very well be even more intense than what transpired in 1859. As for when, we simply do not know," he said.
June 4, 2010: Earth and space are about to come into contact in a way that’s new to human history. To make preparations, authorities in Washington DC are holding a meeting: The Space Weather Enterprise Forum at the National Press Club on June 8th.
Richard Fisher, head of NASA’s Heliophysics Division, explains what it’s all about:
“The sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and in the next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity. At the same time, our technological society has developed an unprecedented sensitivity to solar storms. The intersection of these two issues is what we’re getting together to discuss.”
The National Academy of Sciences framed the problem two years ago in a landmark report entitled “Severe Space Weather Events—Societal and Economic Impacts.” It noted how people of the 21st-century rely on high-tech systems for the basics of daily life. Smart power grids, GPS navigation, air travel, financial services and emergency radio communications can all be knocked out by intense solar activity. A century-class solar storm, the Academy warned, could cause twenty times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina.
Much of the damage can be mitigated if managers know a storm is coming. Putting satellites in ’safe mode’ and disconnecting transformers can protect these assets from damaging electrical surges. Preventative action, however, requires accurate forecasting—a job that has been assigned to NOAA.
“Space weather forecasting is still in its infancy, but we’re making rapid progress,” says Thomas Bogdan, director of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado.
Bogdan sees the collaboration between NASA and NOAA as key. “NASA’s fleet of heliophysics research spacecraft provides us with up-to-the-minute information about what’s happening on the sun. They are an important complement to our own GOES and POES satellites, which focus more on the near-Earth environment.”
2010 marks the 4th year in a row that policymakers, researchers, legislators and reporters have gathered in Washington DC to share ideas about space weather. This year, forum organizers plan to sharpen the focus on critical infrastructure protection. The ultimate goal is to improve the nation’s ability to prepare, mitigate, and respond to potentially devastating space weather events.
"I believe we're on the threshold of a new era in which space weather can be as influential in our daily lives as ordinary terrestrial weather." Fisher concludes. "We take this very seriously indeed."
27th February 2011 07:16
Sonstraal dalk rede vir dwars tegnologie
As jou GPS, televisie en internet die afgelope week probleme gegee het, was dit dalk alles die son se skuld.
Aardbewoners kon die afgelope week weens sonuitbarstings probleme ervaar het met tegnologie waarvoor onder meer satelliete en metaalkabels (soos vir DSL-internet en kragverspreiding) gebruik word.
Mnr. Kobus Olckers van die ruimteweer-waarskuwingsentrum by die Hermanus- magnetiese ob*ser*va*to*rium sê sulke probleme sal die volgende drie tot vier jaar, in die opbou tot die son se volgende maksimum*fase, meer gereeld voorkom.
Hoewel hierdie gereelde pieke in sonaktiwiteit niks nuuts is nie, raak die impak daarvan op die mensdom ál groter omdat mense ál meer tegnologie gebruik.
Olckers sê die bedrywighede op die son word veroorsaak deur hoe die son om sy eie as draai en omdat sy noord- en suidpool elke sowat 11 jaar omruil.
Die groot gewarrel op die son veroorsaak baie sterk magneetvelde wat later opknoop. Plasmawolke breek dan los en skiet weg van die son.
’n Plasmawolk kan volgens Olckers 700 000°C tot 1 miljoen°C warm wees, 50 keer die gewig van Tafelberg hê en 50 keer die aarde se grootte wees.
Sulke plasmawolke veroorsaak groot uitbarstings van x-strale wat baie meer energiek is as die x-strale wat ’n mens op aarde in die mediese beroep ken.
Een so ’n plasmawolk het die son verlede Sondag verlaat en die aarde minder as 24 uur later getref. Dit is weens sy ongekende spoed vir die eerste keer ’n “plasmakoeël” genoem.
Die aarde word gelukkig beskerm deur sy magneetveld, bekend as die magnetosfeer, sê Olckers.
Nogtans raai hy mense aan om uit die son te bly wanneer die bestraling die aarde tref omdat UV-strale dan baie sterker is.
Plasmawolke kan en het al groot skade aan satelliete in hoë wentelbane veroorsaak.
Dit laat klomp klein partikels vry wat teen geweldig hoë snelhede beweeg, wat dan die satelliete binnedring en die elektroniese bane binne-in die satelliete beskadig.
Verder druk die plasmawolk die magnetosfeer laer as sy normale hoogte bokant die aarde.
Geo-stasionêre satelliete soos TV-uitsaaisatelliete en internet-herleiers beweeg dan bo die magnetiese veld, waar dit uitgelewer is aan die rou radio-aktiwiteit van die sonwind.
Wanneer die magnetosfeer rondgestamp word, veroorsaak dit boonop op aarde hoë strome in elektriese geleiers soos lang krag- en kommunikasielyne. Daarom kan DSL-internet, waarvoor koperkabels gebruik word, ook geraak word.
’n Tweede plasmawolk het die aarde Vrydag getref en nog een word vandag verwag.
27th February 2011 17:56
Dis 'n baie interessante onderwerp hierdie.
Die vrae onstaan of hierdie “plasmakoeëls” 'n nuutjie is, of dit al wyle bestaan, of die intensiteit nou verskerp, met in gedagte die 2012 voorspellings byvoorbeeld?
Mens wonder tog?
28th February 2011 01:55
The Superstorm of 1859
The first CME arrived arrived on August 28th and was even by modern accounts a major storm in its own right. Visible in the Northern Hemisphere as far south as Cuba. But the real excitement came with the second CME launched a few days later on September 1. Astronomer Robert Carrington and amateur astronomer Rodger Hodgson had been observing the sun from their observatories near London, England, when both were fortunate to spot a rare, and powerful white-light flare just before Noon. This flare also launched the second CME in the direction of Earth.
The second CME had all the right things going for it. It was fast; it had the right magnetic field orientation, and like a snow plow it was a dense wall of plasma second to none. In just over 17 hours, it swept across the entire inner solar system. At 05:00 UT, an insignificant part of its magnetized plasma brushed by Earth's magnetic field. Within minutes, the entire sun-facing magnetic hemisphere was disrupted and compressed until it reached Earth's tenuous outer atmosphere. The ozone layer was instantly reduced by 5%, and would take several years to recover. The rest of Earth's magnetic field in the night-side became a complex, tangled mass of field lines trying to sort themselves out across a trillion cubic kilometers of space.
The magnetic upheaval in space, utterly invisible to the human eye, continued for a day or more, while from the ground spectacular aurora were seen as far as the equatorial climates of Central America and Bombay, India. In its wake, the Van Allen belts vanished as did Earth's entire plasmasphere, raining energetic particles into the upper atmosphere causing crimson-red aurora worldwide.
Predictably, people saw cities on fire, or specters dancing in glee over some celestial battle. They stood and gawked by the millions, or wrote detailed eyewitness descriptions to their newspapers. In this pre-Civil War era, the only technological impact was telegraph outages and instrument fires, but the scope was world-wide and reached from Scandinavia to Australia.
Today, such an event would be without any historical precedent. At no other time has the web of technology so completely engulfed our day-to-day lives, from the scale of our national electrification grid, to satellites orbiting in space, and human activity in the air and in space. Literally billions of people are now in close personal contact with the most space weather-prone technologies. Luckily, Superstorms seem to be rare events for a star like our sun.
A Tale of Ice and Fire
Deep within ice crystals in Greenland and Antarctica, nitrate atoms had collected in trapped gases since the year 1561. Scientists Michael Smart, Donald Shea and Kennith McCracken at the Air Force Research Lab and the University of Maryland discovered that nitrate concentrations rose and fell suddenly with solar activity. They were a particularly good barometer of powerful radiation storms called 'Solar Proton Events'. In the 450 years covered by the record, the biggest of these SPEs was the 1859 Superstorm event. Slightly weaker storms, however, are far more numerous.
In recent times, the SPEs that occurred on August 4, 1972 and March 1991, have been used by the satellite industry as the worst case SPE events. Since 1561, there have been 19 events more intense than these, with an average arrival interval of 23 years. The overall pace of their arrival is not uniform in time. These two events are the only major ones recorded since 1965. By comparison, during the same 40-year periods between 1850-1890 and between 1890-1930 there were 10 events more intense than the one on August 1972. The current 40-year period has been the least productive in generating large SPEs since as far back as 1670 during the Maunder Minimum! If you wanted to build satellites that endure the rigors of the space environment, Cycle 23 and some of the severe storms during the last 50 years, were probably the wrong examples to use as a 'tall pole' for how bad things can get.
So, what would a modern-day Superstorm be like? There isn't a single prediction that shows one of these storms is in our immediate future, but what would happen if Cycle 24 were to pull a surprise?
28th February 2011 02:01
Meltdown! A solar superstorm could send us back into the dark ages - and one is due in just THREE years
By Michael Hanlon
The catastrophe, when it comes, will be beautiful at first. It is a balmy evening in late September 2012. Ever since the sun set, the dimming skies over London have been alive with fire.
Pillars of incandescent green writhe like gigantic serpents across the skies.
Sheets of orange race across the horizon during the most spectacular display of the aurora borealis seen in southern England for 153 years.
Trouble ahead: How the sun storm might look in London
And then, 90 seconds later, the lights start to go out. Not the lights in the sky - they will dazzle until dawn - but the lights on the ground.
Within an hour, large parts of Britain are without power.
By midnight, every mobile network is down and the internet is dying. Television - terrestrial and satellite - blinks off the air.
Radio is reduced to a burst of static.
By noon the following day, it is clear something terrible has happened and the civilised world has plunged into chaos.
A year later, Britain, most of Europe plus North America is in the grip of the deepest economic catastrophe in history.
By the end of 2013, 100,000 Europeans have died of starvation.
The dead go unburied, the sick untreated.
It will take two decades or more for the first green shoots of recovery to appear - recovery from the first solar superstorm in modern history.
This catastrophe is not some academic one-in-a-million chance scenario.
It is a very real threat which, according to a report in the latest issue of New Scientist, remains one of the most potent, yet least recognised, threats to the future of human civilisation.
Solar activity: The sun, seen through a NASA telescope
Moreover, it is something that has happened before - not that long ago - and indeed has the potential to arrive every 11 years.
So what actually is it?
Solar storms do not normally cause much concern. Swarms of electrically charged subatomic particles from the Sun periodically buffet the Earth and its surroundings, causing health worries for astronauts and the owners of satellites, whose delicate electronics can be fried.
But down on the surface, cocooned under an ocean of air, we rarely notice more than the pretty lights in the sky, created as the electrically charged particles from the Sun sweep into the Earth's own magnetic field to generate the Northern and Southern Lights.
But every now and then, the Sun is convulsed by a gigantic tempest: 50,000-mile-wide eddies of boiling hydrogen plasma on its surface ejecting a billion-tonne, malevolent blob of crackling-charged gas into space at a million miles an hour.
And, very occasionally, one of these mighty coronal mass ejections, as they are called, smacks into the Earth head-on.
This last happened on the morning of September 1, 1859.
That day, one of Britain's top astronomers, Richard Carrington, was observing the Sun.
Using a filter, he was able to study the solar surface through his telescope, and he saw something unusual.
A bright flash of light erupted from the Sun's surface and detached itself from it.
Unbeknown to Carrington, that bright spot was a cloud of charged plasma on its way to Earth.
Just 48 hours later it struck, and the effects were extraordinary.
Brilliant aurorae lit the Earth's night skies right down to the Tropics - their light being so brilliant it was possible to read a newspaper at midnight.
In California, a group of gold miners were roused from their bed hours early, thinking the dawn and a new day's prospecting had come. It was 2am.
Telegraph operators received severe electric shocks as solar-induced currents surged through the networks. It was as though the Earth had been immersed in a bath of electricity.
Such damage as there was, was easy to repair. In 1859, the world ran mostly on steam and muscle.
Solar flare: Large-scale activity on the sun in 2003
Human civilisation did not depend on a gargantuan super-network of electric power and communications.
But it does now. Electric power is modern society's 'cornerstone technology', the technology on which virtually all other infrastructures and services depend.
Daniel Baker, a space weather expert at the University of Colorado, prepared a report for the U.S. National Academy of Sciences last month, and the conclusions make grim reading.
'Every year, our human technology becomes more vulnerable,' he says.
A repeat of the 1859 Carrington event today would have far graver consequences than the frying of some telegraph wires.
The problem comes with our dependence on electricity and the way this electricity is generated and transmitted.
A huge solar storm would cause massive power surges, amounting to billions of unwanted watts surging through the grids.
Most critically, the transformers which convert the multi-thousand-volt current carried by the pylons into 240v domestic current would melt - thousands of them, in every country.
This would bring the world to its knees. With no electricity, we would not just be in the dark.
We are dependent, to a degree few of us perhaps appreciate, on a functioning grid for our survival. All our water and sewage plants run on electricity.
A couple of days after a solar superstorm, the taps would run dry.
Within a week, we would lose all heat and light as reserves ran out, the supermarket shelves would run empty and the complex supply and distribution networks upon which our society depends would have started to break down.
No telephones, no medicines, no manufacturing, no farming - and no food.
Global communications and travel would also collapse - a solar superstorm would probably destroy the network of GPS satellites upon which every airline depends.
Of course, the power grid can be rebuilt, new transformers and cables made, new satellites launched - but organising this in a world teetering on the brink of collapse would not be easy.
Humanity would recover, but it would take decades. A seemingly innocuous event, one which apparently poses no direct threat to human health at all, would have an effect on our world comparable to that of a small nuclear war.
So could this really happen? And why is 2012 a year to worry about? Well, we know that solar superstorm did happen, back in 1859.
And we know that 20 years ago a much smaller storm knocked out the power grid across much of eastern Canada, leaving nine million people without electricity.
We also know that the Sun's activity waxes and wanes in 11-year cycles.
Currently, the Sun is very quiet. But a solar maximum - a peak of activity - is predicted for 2012, and this is when a superstorm could strike, probably around either the spring or autumn equinox, when the orientation of the Earth's magnetic field to the Sun makes us very vulnerable.
The main point is that every solar maximum puts us more in danger as our growing population becomes ever more dependent on electricity.
Ironically, the least-affected parts of the world would probably be the poorest areas.
Those Third World nations that usually suffer most from natural disasters, on account of their poor infrastructure, would adjust most quickly to life without electricity, while richer nations would be paralysed.
So can anything be done to prevent an epic disaster?
A more robust electricity grid would be a start. And we need new satellites to give warning of what is happening on the Sun.
Of course, it may not happen in 2012 - it may not happen in 2023, the year of the next solar maximum.
But sooner or later, a re-run of the Carrington event is inevitable.
Perhaps it would be wise to start stocking up on some candles.
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28th February 2011 08:02
Interessant, die geboorte jaar van Niklaas van Rensburg 1862...
Originally Posted by Stefanus
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