Two years ago, Earth really lucked out.
The New York Post
reports that a series of massive solar flares just missed Earth by a hair, packing an electromagnetic wallop that could have wiped out all electrical and electronic power on the globe and slammed the planet with a $2 trillion cost of recovery – 20 times more than the cost of Hurricane Katrina.
The near-miss was the result of two coronal mass ejections (CMEs) on July 23, 2012, preceded by another one four days earlier, which, had they scored a direct hit, would have bombarded earth with pulses of magnetized plasma, according to column by John Kemp at Reuters,
knocking out power worldwide to hundreds of millions of people and severely damaging communications, transportation, food and water supplies – in short, everything needed to sustain modern life.
reports that had the flare occurred just nine days earlier, a direct hit on Earth would have occurred, and you would not be reading this article on your computer.
It has happened before — in 1859, the Carrington Event occurred, but in a largely pre-electric society, the only real damage was to U.S. telegraph systems, and it was nowhere near as intense as the July near-miss.
Today, Janet Luhmann, of the Solar Terrestrial Observatory (STEREO) team at the University of California-Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory, told Forbes, "Had the latest storm hit Earth, it probably would have been like the big one in 1859, but the effect today, with our modern technologies, would have been tremendous."
In a study published in Space Weather, Reuters reports, researchers warned, "The July 2012 solar storm was a shot across the bows for policymakers and space weather professionals."
"Our advanced technological society was very fortunate, indeed, that the solar storm did not occur just a week or so earlier. Had the storm occurred in mid-July the Earth would have been directly targeted ... and an unprecedentedly large space weather event would have resulted.
"There is a legitimate question of whether our society would still be picking up the pieces."
We're not out of the woods yet – physicist Pete Riley of Predictive Science, Inc., , author of a paper titled, "On The Probability of Occurrence of Extreme Space Weather Events," notes that there is a 12 percent chance that Earth will get slammed by a similar solar "perfect storm" within the next decade, the Post reports.
"Initially, I was quite surprised that the odds were so high," Riley told the Post, "but the statistics appear to be correct. It is a sobering figure."
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