CME Strike: Can We Live in the Dark?

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Tanay Maheshwari B-Theories ,,,,,,,,,,,,,

“Darkness, imprisoning me! All I see, absolute horror.” Years from now, this line from a Metallica track might be much more of a description of our world than the mere lyric it is now.

How, you ask? The very Sun that brightens our lives during the day might darken our lives beyond imagination. There has been much discussion lately about a massive CME strike and the effect it can have on our lives. Here’s the deal:

Life without Light

Although, it is not necessary that a Coronal Mass Ejection from the sun will be enough to wipe out life as we know it today, it is quite likely to damage the power grid.

This CME wave is, indeed, a big worry. A flaming hurry(bad pun alert). One of the theories for the extinction of the dinosaurs includes a CME bombardment during a Solar Maximum.

CME waves are charged dense masses of unimaginable energy whizzing through space with unprecedented zeal. The National Academy of Sciences estimated that a strike from one of these ejections could damage the power grid so devastatingly that it could take up to- you may want to sit down for this(if you aren’t already)- 10 years to bring it back to its former functioning.

Let that sink in. 10 years. To live in a world without power is to practically travel hundreds of years back in time- before computers, before smartphones, before the invention of the box TV, even before the invention of the light bulb.


Image Source: www.nasa.gov
Image Source: www.nasa.gov

Phases of the Sun

The Sun works in two phases: Solar Minimum and Solar Maximum.
While expulsion of a CME wave is more probably during a Solar Maximum, the possibility of one being released isn’t negligible in either phases.

What is a CME wave?
Our solar system, like every other, has a massive source of finite energy in its sun. Most stars, like ours, are dense balls of plasma with nuclear reactions taking place at their centers. Our Sun has a constantly twisting magnetic field. Since the gaseous sphere rotates more quickly at its equator than at its poles, this magnetic field straightens itself out and distorts into an irregular shape. And then, repeat.

The energy from this distortion, break down and reformation of the Sun’s magnetic field excites the plasma on the surface, leading to a large amount of radiation and light energy being blasted off the face of the Sun.

This blast is accompanied by an ejection of a small portion of the sun’s plasma. This blast is accompanied by an ejection of the sun’s plasma [a small portion], which is repaired by the quickly reforming magnetic field. However, this isn’t always the case. It is possible that some of the plasma is dispatched surging to the rest of the Solar system, including the Earth. This release of plasma rushing towards us is what is called a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME).

Image Source: www.nasa.gov
Image Source: www.nasa.gov


Where does that leave us?

In case of a CME wave, we will be forced to live in a world without electricity- something that is taken for granted so often. Banks, hospitals, airports, houses, schools today couldn’t survive without a power supply.

This raises two immediate problematic questions. One that is being rectified as you read this, and one, ironically, being compounded as you read this.

1) How much do we really know about CME waves? This is being extensively researched and we are learning more and more about this mysterious mega-typhoon every day.

2) How dependent are we on electricity? Perhaps the worst effect of a CME wave striking the earth would be rendering us without power for an extended period of time. Are we capable of living in a world with no electricity at all? Or have we tied ourselves with the very cables and wireless bonds that were meant to give us the freedom to be connected anywhere?