On July 23, 2012, the sun unleashed two massive clouds of plasma that barely missed a catastrophic encounter with the Earth's atmosphere. These plasma clouds, known ascoronal mass ejections (CMEs), comprised a solar storm thought to be the most powerful in at least 150 years. "If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces," physicist Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado tells NASA. Fortunately, the blast site of the CMEs was not directed at Earth. Had this event occurred a week earlier when the point of eruption was Earth-facing, a potentially disastrous outcome would have unfolded. Baker tells NASA:
"I have come away from our recent studies more convinced than ever that Earth and its inhabitants were incredibly fortunate that the 2012 eruption happened when it did."
"If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire." A CME double whammy of this potency striking Earth would likely cripple satellite communications and could severely damage the power grid. NASA offers this sobering assessment:
There are a few blasts from the Sun each cycle, most of which miss due to not occuring on the correct days or off-latitude alignment. While the odds will eventually catch up with Earth, nothing is being done to soften the blow, whether on the electrical grid, satellite protection, internet system, car controls,etc. The warnings from NASA go totally unheeded, so the risk remains at natural odds levels. 3 days lead time is all we are going to get.
Three days lead time before a Carrington event hits earth is enough time to alert power grid operators so they can protect the largest interchanges, primarily their most massive transformers, when the solar storm impacts.
If the huge transformers at major interchanges are disconnected when the storm arrives, they will survive. Big power grids might sustain widespread, localized damage, but it will be repairable within a reasonable timeframe in most or many, if not all areas. However, full recovery might take weeks.
That's perhaps the best case scenario, but if power grid operators screw up, the power infrastructure will take a year or more to repair and recover. That won't be a very pleasant interlude of human history, if it should occur.
They would have to not only disconnect from the grid, they would also have to de-ground the transformers. That is because the charge flows from an induction field around the Earth, and the Earth is then sending the charge from inducted rock type to non-inducted rock type. i.e. - the damage is done by a charge that travels from the transformer ground to the transformer...backwards. You would get the same shower of sparks and a cooked/burst into flaming oil from hooking up a transformer backwards. Oops. Then there is double trouble: Nuclear Power Plants needing cooling capacity power. Suddenly, Fission Reactors aren't so cheap or smart.
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