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Massive Solar Flare Could Paralyze Earth In 2013

A giant explosion of energy from the Sun could paralyze Earth in just three years' time, scientists warned on Tuesday, reports The Mail. They fear a huge solar flare is due to erupt in 2013
PTI September 22, 2010 12:23 IST
A giant explosion of energy from the Sun could paralyze Earth in just three years' time, scientists warned on Tuesday, reports The Mail.

They fear a huge solar flare is due to erupt in 2013 - causing blackouts and global chaos.

The once-in-a-century disaster could see power grids crash, communication systems collapse, planes grounded, food supplies hit and the internet shut down.

Everything from home freezers to car sat navs would be affected.

The disaster could mirror the Great Solar Flare of 1859.

That wreaked horrendous damage across Europe and America - burning out telegraph wires across both continents.

The threat of another disaster - which could mirror scenes in Hollywood blockbuster 2012 - is so great that UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox called an emergency conference in London on Tuesday.

Dr Fox told experts that incalculable damage would be caused if an explosion similar to the one in 1859 occurred in modern times.  

He called on scientists to build a strategy against the impending disaster.

The talks, organized by the Electric Infrastructure Security Council, heard that the Sun will reach a critical stage of its cycle in 2013.

A surge of magnetic energy in its atmosphere is likely to trigger radiation storms which cause massive power surges. Such a phenomenon occurs only once about every 100 years.

The last big flare, in 1859, smothered two thirds of the Earth's skies in a blood-red aurora.  

Such scenes could occur again, causing cloud storms in major modern cities such as London, Paris and New York. In 1989, a more common smaller solar flare took out power stations in Quebec, Canada.

Above is a  graphic which shows how the sun's solar flares could endanger human life by interfering with high-tech systems such as satellites and power grids

In the movie 2012, starring John Cusack, a solar flare causes global temperatures to soar. The planet is then battered by tsunamis and earthquakes, threatening mankind.

Tuesday's  conference also heard that a hostile power could cause a similar effect by exploding a nuclear weapon in space.

Dr Fox added: "While we all benefit from scientific advances, so we also create vulnerabilities that can be exploited by our enemies.

"However advanced we become, the chain of our security is only as strong as its weakest link."

Former US government advisor Avi Schnurr has suggested that super-flares occur once every hundred years.

While the last major flare in the mid-nineteenth century disrupted the early telegraph system, a similar event now could disable modern life, with computers, telephones, water and food supplies affected.

Earlier this year, NASA predicted that a storm could be provoked by a peak in the sun's energy cycle around 2013, leaving Britain without crucial communication signals for extended periods of time.

Speaking to Channel 4 News  Schnurr, president of the EIS Council, said a solar flare could cause a permanent blackout across the world.

"The most severe affects would be destruction of big transformers that make it possible to send all the electrical power through the electric grid," he said.

"It would mean a blackout and potentially a blackout that would just go on and on. A permanent blackout. No electrical power.   

"We've seen it happen before. NASA just published a study completed this last summer which they found this has happened about every 150-100 years.

"The last time was 150 years ago. The telegraph network at that point was international in scope and it was fried, it was destroyed, all over the earth."

Schnurr said governments needed to realise the threat and come together to protect electric grids.

"There are fairly simple measures which can be taken," he said.

"There are the equivalent of huge surge protectors which need to be put on these different transformers.

The cost is fairly nominal. For the UK we're talking somewhere around a few 100s of millions of pounds. In the US it would be probably between one and three billion dollars."