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Scientist: Near-miss solar storm should be a wake-up call

Dec. 10, 2013 at 5:15 PM   |   Comments

BOULDER, Colo., Dec. 10 (UPI) -- A massive solar storm that narrowly missed Earth last year should open the eyes of policymakers to the threat of severe space weather, a U.S. scientist says.

The coronal mass ejection traveling at more than 7 million miles per hour was likely more powerful than the famous Carrington storm of 1859 that blasted Earth's atmosphere so hard it kit up they skies with auroras from the North Pole to Central America, University of Colorado Boulder Professor Daniel Baker said.

The 1859 event disrupted telegraph communications -- the Victorian Age's Internet -- around the world, sparking fires at telegraph offices that caused several deaths, he said in a university release Monday.

If the July 2012 event had hit the Earth is likely would have created a technological disaster by short-circuiting satellites, power grids, ground communication equipment and even threatening the health of astronauts and aircraft crews, Baker said.

Fortunately, it occurred on the far side of the rotating sun just a week after that area was pointed toward Earth, solar scientist Baker said.

"My space weather colleagues believe that until we have an event that slams Earth and causes complete mayhem, policymakers are not going to pay attention," he said. "The message we are trying to convey is that we made direct measurements of the 2012 event and saw the full consequences without going through a direct hit on our planet."

"The Carrington storm and the 2012 event show that extreme space weather events can happen even during a modest solar cycle like the one presently underway," Baker said. "Rather than wait and pick up the pieces, we ought to take lessons from these events to prepare ourselves for inevitable future solar storms."

Topics: Daniel Baker
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