How Bad Can a Coronal Mass Ejection be?

1/4/2012 3:39:36 PM

With the calendar now saying 2012, one cannot help but think of the dire "warnings" associated with this new year. To add to the negative warnings about the future, NASA officials recently said that Earth is likely to face a barrage of increasingly common solar storms known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs) over the course of 2012 and 2013.

NASA officials have long prepared for the increased solar activity. Speaking at the annual Space Weather Enterprise Forum earlier this year, NASA officials said they have conducted a number of tests to research the impact of a major CME, noting that an increased dependency on technology could present challenges for millions around the world.

"We can now track the progress of solar storms in 3 dimensions as the storms bear down on Earth," noted Michael Hesse, chief of the GSFC Space Weather Lab. "This sets the stage for actionable space weather alerts that could preserve power grids and other high-tech assets during extreme periods of solar activity."

NASA experts can follow these pulses of energy after they leave the Sun. They can tell if it is going to hit the Earth at a glancing blow or a direct hit, and they can determine the intensity of the disturbance as it approaches. They can alert communication, transportation and power companies to how major of a disruption to service may occur and whether or not to take precautions.

Hopefully, NASA and the companies that may be affected by these events have done their homework and we as a society are prepared to deal with the challenges that a major CME may cause. Can you imagine not having a cellphone for days or even weeks? How about airplanes stuck on the ground because radio communications are affected? How about computer problems that interfere with everyday activities like using an ATM or debit card?

I think sometimes we as a modern society take for granted things that we do everyday that are very easy due to technology. If these conveniences are taken away, how will we as a society react?

An example of a CME

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