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NASA: Revisiting Our Vulnerabiity To Solar Flares

user profile picture Adam Taggart Oct 25, 2014
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Last year, we recorded a fascinating interview with Dr. Lika Guhathakurta, NASA astrophysicist and heliophysics expert, to understand the science behind coronal mass ejections (CMEs — also commonly referred to as 'solar flares) and the potential havoc a large one could wreak on our technology-dependent society. The largest CME recorded in modern history, the Carrington Event, occurred in 1859 and it's charged particle wave brought down the then-new telegraph system across the US.

Dr Guhathakurta returns to the podcast this week to discuss a large-scale CME that nearly hit Earth back in July of 2012 (a direct hit missed us by about 1 week), as well as to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the warning system we have in place to alert us to such dangers, and the continuing vulnerability our system have to such an event:

To bring our modern society to a halt, I don't think we need an event that is as large as a Carrington Event. It could be much smaller, simply because of the connectedness of our power grid and also the entire technological system. We don't know how to operate without our GPS system. 

What's interesting is that we used to think that this kind of low-probability, high-impact event happens every 100 years or so. Some researchers are doing calculations that suggest that the probability could be much higher: 10-12%. Now, that probability that they are referring to is that a solar storm will be that severe. But as to its impact — we still know very little about that.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Lika Guhathakurta (35m:02s):

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