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This title of this post sounds like one of those 1950's science fiction movies. It isn't. It is an actual 2006 prediction from NASA, one of the handful of productive government agencies (another productive government agency took out Bin Laden a few days ago):
This week researchers announced that a storm is coming--the most intense solar maximum in fifty years. The prediction comes from a team led by Mausumi Dikpati of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). "The next sunspot cycle will be 30% to 50% stronger than the previous one," she says. If correct, the years ahead could produce a burst of solar activity second only to the historic Solar Max of 1958.
That was a solar maximum. The Space Age was just beginning: Sputnik was launched in Oct. 1957 and Explorer 1 (the first US satellite) in Jan. 1958. In 1958 you couldn't tell that a solar storm was underway by looking at the bars on your cell phone; cell phones didn't exist. Even so, people knew something big was happening when Northern Lights were sighted three times in Mexico. A similar maximum now would be noticed by its effect on cell phones, GPS, weather satellites and many other modern technologies.
Dikpati's prediction is unprecedented. In nearly-two centuries since the 11-year sunspot cycle was discovered, scientists have struggled to predict the size of future maxima—and failed. Solar maxima can be intense, as in 1958, or barely detectable, as in 1805, obeying no obvious pattern.
The key to the mystery, Dikpati realized years ago, is a conveyor belt on the sun.
The sun's conveyor belt is a current, not of water, but of electrically-conducting gas. It flows in a loop from the sun's equator to the poles and back again. Just as the Great Ocean Conveyor Belt controls weather on Earth, this solar conveyor belt controls weather on the sun. Specifically, it controls the sunspot cycle.
Solar physicist David Hathaway of the National Space Science & Technology Center (NSSTC) explains: "First, remember what sunspots are--tangled knots of magnetism generated by the sun's inner dynamo. A typical sunspot exists for just a few weeks. Then it decays, leaving behind a 'corpse' of weak magnetic fields."
Enter the conveyor belt.
"The top of the conveyor belt skims the surface of the sun, sweeping up the magnetic fields of old, dead sunspots. The 'corpses' are dragged down at the poles to a depth of 200,000 km where the sun's magnetic dynamo can amplify them. Once the corpses (magnetic knots) are reincarnated (amplified), they become buoyant and float back to the surface." Presto—new sunspots!
All this happens with massive slowness. "It takes about 40 years for the belt to complete one loop," says Hathaway. The speed varies "anywhere from a 50-year pace (slow) to a 30-year pace (fast)."
When the belt is turning "fast," it means that lots of magnetic fields are being swept up, and that a future sunspot cycle is going to be intense. This is a basis for forecasting: "The belt was turning fast in 1986-1996," says Hathaway. "Old magnetic fields swept up then should re-appear as big sunspots in 2010-2011."
What NASA is describing here is magnetic solar storms, or tsunamis, if you will. We have had them before, and without doubt, we will have them again. We had a particularly intense solar tsunami in 1859. Here's what happened then:
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.
1859 was a pretty low-tech time. Imagine the effects of such a solar storm on our society today, a society of cell phones, satellites, electrical wires, and computers. Imagine what would happen if all that was knocked out in one fell swoop. Our entire power grid could be wiped out. We'd be thrown into immediate chaos. Listen to the astro-physicist Michio Kaku talking on Fox News:
Why am I bringing this apocalyptic doom and gloom up now ?
Because the next solar storm maximum is predicted to happen in 2012, possibly even earlier in 2011. As noted above, it is predicted to be a very strong one. If what happened in 1859 happens again next year, it's far better for you to Be Prepared, as they used to tell me in the Boy Scouts.
Because none of this information is of a political nature, and this is a political blog, I'll make a political point. When push comes to shove, it's a bad thing to be dependent on the government for your survival. Instead, take responsibility for your own survival and your own welfare. Don't be dependent, be as independent as possible. If you fail to make preparations until after disaster strikes, it will be too late.
This is today's public service announcement.
Note to global warmers - Those solar flares affect the earth's temperature and weather patterns too. While you worry about the effects of carbon, don't forget about that giant ball of fire in the sky known as the sun. The sun has a little MORE to do with the earth's temperature than does a rise in levels of a minor greenhouse gas, dont you think ?