We live together on the surface of a small rock in the immediate vicinity of a deadly plasma ball that gives us the energy we need to survive but could also swallow our entire house without belching.
So, you know, sometimes this plasma ball causes problems. How to blow up a bunch of underwater mines during the Vietnam War, according to an article published Oct. 25 in Space Weather magazine.
"Space weather" is a collective term for the various energetic gobbets that the sun periodically vomits, unpredictably, in our general direction. These gobbets are usually mild, but can be quite powerful. Scientists do not know exactly how often they occur, and energy bubbles have the potential to cause all sorts of damage, from frying the global satellite infrastructure to drastically disrupting life on Earth. The most powerful example ever recorded was studied in 1859, and its effects were noted mainly by skywatchers, telegraphers and people who saw the strangely southern auroras she created. If this happened in our modern, electrified era, its consequences would be much more serious.
There have been major space weather incidents ever since, although none at the scale of the event of 1859. And researchers are still discovering the extent of their damage potential. In the Space Weather paper, researchers uncovered ancient Navy records that suggest that a famous 1972 solar storm was even more serious than they had imagined. [Flying Saucers to Mind Control: 22 Declassified Military & CIA Secrets]
"Between 2 and 4 August 1972 [a sunspot] produced a series of brilliant explosions, energetic enhancements of particles and ejecta-directed material from Earth, "they wrote.
These flames paved the way for "the subsequent ultra-rapid shock … which hit Earth in record time – 14.6 hours."
People all over the planet have noticed the effects of the flare.
"Radio side city radio … developed in minutes. Long-term flare X-rays remained [high] for [more than] 16 hours For the first time, a space-based detector observed gamma rays during this solar eruption. [Experts] ranked the flare in Comprehensive Flare Index level 17 – the highest level, and one attributed only to the more extreme and broad-spectrum flares, "they wrote, adding that" spectacular aurora & # 39; bright enough to cast shadows , appeared along the south coast of the United Kingdom … Within two hours airline pilots reported aurora as far south as Bilboa in Spain. "
The researchers later discovered that the burning caused damage to the solar panels on the satellites in space; a defense communications satellite "suffered a failure in the orbit of a power failure," and Air Force sensors were linked, falsely suggesting a nuclear bomb detonated somewhere on the planet.
"This is just one of the few space-age events that would pose an immediate threat to astronaut safety," the researchers wrote, "if humans were in transit to the moon at the time."
And somehow, in the midst of all this drama, space weather researchers had largely ignored another consequence of the storm: "the sudden detonation of a large number – of the US Navy … [that had been] fell in the coastal waters of North Vietnam just three months earlier. "
Pilots flying around the area observed about two dozen explosions in a minefield in just 30 seconds, the researchers said.
Marine investigators investigated, and they concluded that the explosions were the result of the solar storm that triggered magnetic sensors in the mines that had been prepared to detect the passage of metal ships.
According to the researchers, this event led to major changes within the Navy, which quickly researched alternatives to magnetic-sensor mines that would be more resistant to solar effects. However, history has never reached the research community on space weather.
Now, according to the researchers, this event illustrates the modern challenge of finding out how storms like this (or the most powerful) would affect modern infrastructure. And it is not yet clear, they wrote, what features of the storm made it so intense. Was it the speed of the outbreak? The multiple flares making their way through space before the big one? The magnetic environment around the Earth at the moment?
It is not yet clear, they wrote, what a powerful solar storm could do to critical satellites, or how common it was. In July 2012, a major storm almost lost the Earth, rather than reaching nearby satellites. How does this compare?
There are still many unknowns.
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