Last week we were attacked by the sun. For real. Huge solar eruptions sent a blast of radiation toward Earth. Thankfully, the planet’s natural magnetic shield warded off the worst effects. Life went on uninterrupted.
That won’t always be the case. In 1859, Richard Carrington recorded what is now called the “Carrington Effect” — intense solar activity that can disrupt modern life dramatically.
In Carrington’s day, there were few electromechanical systems for intense solar radiation to mess with. The new fangled telegraph systems suffered the most. Solar-induced power surges knocked some operators from their chairs and set fire to the paper rolls used to record dashes and dots.
Fortunately, no Carrington Effect has occurred since the whole world became electrified. But scientists worry about what might happen when a real solar tsunami hits.
It is a real danger. In 2008, the National Academies released a report on the “adverse effects of extreme space weather on modern technology — power grid outages, high-frequency communication blackouts. …” Much of the planet’s energy and communications infrastructure is just too fragile to weather a massive electromagnetic onslaught.