The sun got into a snit the other day with the potential to knock out satellites and threaten the power grid here on Earth. People depending on GPS wouldn’t even know which way to go. Recent sunspot activity culminated on June 7th in a “coronal mass ejection,” which means a tremendous burst of solar wind. Been there. I got into some suspect falafel the same night and I wasn’t sure which way to go, myself.
The danger to our systems is real. Solar flares erupt in cycles, like herpes, and can speed towards us at the rate of 560 miles per hour. A similar event in 1989 took out the power grid in Quebec before anyone had a chance to calculate the speed in kilometers. Even without a power boost, the sun’s rays take a little over eight minutes to reach the surface of the earth, except in Oregon, where they can take upwards of nine months.
There’s nothing new about this, and this time it’s nothing we did. The sun has had massive gaseous outbursts for a long time. There was a doozy in 1921 and also in 1859. The only reason we’d be screweder now is that technology has evolved us out of our common sense. Our ability to fend for ourselves is now entirely vestigial, like wings on a dodo, or the League of Lobbyists’ Code of Ethics. If a sunfart takes out our grid tomorrow, half of America would starve to death clutching boxes of uncooked Mac ‘N’ Cheese. If we were abruptly deprived of the air conditioning we’ve only had for about fifty years, we would all flop on the pavement in our office sweaters like landed fish.
I’m sometimes smug about not using GPS or a cell phone, but I have learned that technology has insinuated itself into our lives in ways we rarely expect; for all I know my spleen could quit working, or chipped dogs could explode in the streets.
It all reminds me of the old Y2K scare, wherein computers and computerized parts of everything were anticipated to suffer terminal confusion due to their programmers failing to plan for the year 2000, leaving them vulnerable to thinking it’s 1900 instead and cease to exist, or turn into abacuses. All kinds of chaos was predicted. Planes were expected to fall out of the sky, uninvented.
We’ve made great progress in our understanding since Copernicus made the nearly fatal observation that the sun does not revolve around the pope. We know that we’re flying around the sun and the sun is flying around the galaxy and the galaxy is hurtling towards the constellation Hydra so really, it’s no wonder we could use a nap. “Hurtling” is a relative term, of course. We don’t notice the hurtling any more than a pebble in the belly of a slingshot notices it, until the sling snaps back. And relative to other stars headed in the same general direction, the sun could be said to mosey. At any rate it seems to be able to take almost anything in stride (or amble or sprint, as the case may be). So whatever havoc is wreaked here on our marble, the sun itself is probably not unduly disturbed by solar flares. I don’t have them anymore, but they used to keep me up at night. Nothing keeps the sun up at night.
I would like to comment about this *&^$&*(*… but I keep getting these >:"}*%$#* interruptions that &^%@@!%&^( turn everything to gibberish. Or is it too early for a Bloody Mary?
I'll probably miss it due to rain…or my neighbours might have their spotlights turned on…
Apparently, NOAA has quite a wonderful site for keeping track of such things. I have enough mass ejection (or lack thereof) to keep me busy already, although there are few times I have been as happy to be on a very teeny ball of dirt.
I started to read this post, and then told myself–"No, go pee FIRST, or you'll be sorry." Whew. Disaster averted.
You make me miss Oregon and its obviously brilliant population… my mom dragged me down to her native California when I was three and a little part of me is still up in Eugene.
Now that we have all this monitoring technology, we know about and are frightened of everything. Nurses kids are always sick because nurses have thermometers.
Just don't light one of your flares or more than dogs could explode in the street.
It all those electromagnetic particles that get spewed that wreaks havoc on my nervous system. Great post.
Lucky thing beer is impervious to solar flares. There's a thought. If all the electricity got knocked out, I'd have nothing to do but empty my beer fridge as quickly as possible before the beer got warm.
Bring on the sunfarts!
What I worry about is they say the sun will burn out in a scant 5 billion years. But how do they know? Did someone dip a stick in the Hydrogen tank to see how much there is left? For all we know the sun is running on fumes, it could wink out in two weeks. I hope it stays lit long enough for me to get my first social security check.
I too take the ordinary precaution of peeing *before* reading your posts, Murr. You don't get to my age by taking unnecessary risks.
Hell, Dale and laytonwoman, I've gotten to the age when I sometimes pee before I pee.
Why is it that at a certain age to pee or not to pee becomes a momentous decision-making event?…As for the possibility of cataclysmic events, I believe that ignorance is bliss. I have enough things to worry about. I have to go…pee.
"If we were abruptly deprived of the air conditioning we've only had for about fifty years, we would all flop on the pavement in our office sweaters like landed fish."
Oh, Murr….you are brilliant. There are so many quotable line in this post they boggle the mind.
A great piece.
Well, actually the solar flares might cheer people up, now that so many municipalities have canceled their Fourth of July fireworks due to budget cuts.
Nice article, thanks for the information.
I awaken from my ignorant slumber to find that my Facebook account is temporarily nonfunctional, and now I find that solar flares are lurking. An easy game of connect the dots. But I'm not sure what pee has to do with it.
…you could make Galileo laugh. Of course, he also took some things seriously:
I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.
It is surely harmful to souls to make it a heresy to believe what is proved.
Well, if it does hit the fan, I'll still be able to eat pretty well from our yard (what with the garden, the hens, the bees). But, would life even be worth living if I couldn't get my bi-weekly dose of Murr?
Dont ask me why, but I was hearing Fountains of Wayne's song 'Mexican Wine' as a soundtrack in my head while I was reading this post.
Those hiccups from the sun are just part of the universe's life. Nothing to cause much excitement.
GPS, whatever. I can still tell where north is by setting a match or twig aside my watch and lining up the shadow. Or by looking for the north star at night. As long as you understand the fundamentals, you'll be OK. If you're not, nobody is, regardless of their box of mac 'n cheese.
Funny, I was just thinking about the Y2K scare. Much ado about nothing. Like solar flares.
"Our ability to fend for ourselves is now entirely vestigial, like wings on a dodo, or the League of Lobbyists' Code of Ethics."
I want to marry you.
You are so amusing! I can't even tell you which parts are funniest because I'd be cutting and pasting half your post back into the comments. 🙂
"Planes were expected to fall out of the sky, uninvented." Best. Line. Ever!
Thanks for sorting out the scientific stuff (which is Greek to me!).