A massive hole has been spotted on the sun, and it is rotating towards Earth. NASA experts called the coronal gap “extensive” and also noted that it is the biggest solar flare-related event discovered yet this year. Coronal holes, or gaps, are a source of strong solar wind gusts that carry solar particles to the magnetosphere and beyond, according to a statement issued by NASA.
Coronal gaps are regions of the sun where the corona is dark. The features of such regions were first spotted when X-ray telescopes were flown from Earth to reveal the structure of the solar disc. Coronal holes are often associated with open magnetic field lines common around the sun’s polar region.
It would take two to three days for a solar wind stream to travel to the Earth from the sun. The coronal gap would most likely have an impact on the planet after it has rotated halfway around from its starting point around the sun’s visible hemisphere. During the early years of a solar cycle, coronal gaps are typically confined to the polar regions of the sun. We are currently in the peak of a solar cycle, and should expect enhanced coronal mass ejection (CME) activity.
Typically, magnetic field lines on the surface of the sun create closed loops that contain gases. When a coronal gap occurs, the magnetic field lines stick out towards space, creating an open channel for the gases to escape. Solar wind can then “blast unobstructed” from the coronal hole. Solar gusts routinely leave the sun at speeds of approximately 250 miles per hour. When a coronal gap occurs, the wind travels much more quickly, up to 500 miles per hour. Geometric storms gauged to be modest in strength can occur. Such high winds can disrupt satellites in orbit around the Earth.
NASA and NOAA experts remain watchful for strong Earth-directed solar flares as we venture closer to the peak of Sun Cycle 24. While the radiation stemming from a CME is not expected to harm people or animals on Earth, a downed power grid is a very real possibility. As previously noted during an Off The Grid News interview with Dr. William Forstchen, the death toll from a power grid failure would be staggering. Approximately 85 percent of the American population could perish if the power grid goes down due to either a solar flare or EMP attack.
Hospital patients reliant upon electrical aids and those who could not withstand the temperatures extremes are expected to become the first casualties should the power grid fail for any reason. Civil unrest stemming from a lack of food and clean drinking water is expected to comprise the bulk of deaths both within days and in the long term.
The power grid is one of the most expansive and vulnerable pieces of infrastructure in the United States. Despite pleas to Congress to take the steps necessary to mitigate potential damage to the electrical grid, no action has been taken in decades. Until now – maybe. During the final days of May, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) instructed power grid regulators to “address” the impact of solar flares on operations. The FERC regulates the transmission of natural gas, oil, and electricity.
The Energy Power Act of 2005 gave the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the authority to review mergers and transactions by electrical companies, monitor and investigate energy markets, and enforce regulation requirements and impose civil penalties.
The federal agency directed the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) to present “reliability standards” which would aid in the protection of the power grid should a major geomagnetic disturbance occur. The FERC was reportedly supposed to take the necessary (and too long in coming) steps by both the dictates of the Federal Power Act and the Department of Energy. The electric reliability corporation has a total of six months to submit at least one standard which would require both the owners and the operators of the bulk power system to implement power grid safety procedures.
The second stage of the power grid protection project would give NERC 18 months to develop at least one standard for owners and operators of facilities attached to the energy grid to conduct assessments of CME “disturbances.” The assessments, once implemented, would reportedly be ongoing.
A report in the Scientific American about the threat solar flares pose to the power grid reads:
“The sun frequently emits bursts of matter and energy called flares, which are triggered by a star’s natural magnetic turbulence. Occasionally, however, the sun also belches a billion-ton plume of superheated plasma [ionized gas], known as a coronal mass ejection. If this massive bubble of plasma and radiation is aimed right at Earth, it can pose a serious threat to satellite operations and even to power grids on the ground, along with modern civilization that depends on their electricity.”
In 2012, a group of renowned scientists warned the world that a massive solar flare could occur within the next two years. Although the FERC power grid mandates are a step in the right direction, the slow movement of government could cost lives if an Earth-directed CME hits this summer as some experts fear. The risk of a power grid disabling solar flare increases the closer we come to the peak of the sun cycle. NOAA and NASA experts cannot agree on exactly when the peak will occur or if it will be a double peak.
Seton Hall University Professor Jose Lopez had this to say about solar flares during a recent interview with Fox News:
“The concern of a strong solar flare in the direction of Earth is legit. There is a possibility that such a sun burst could hit Earth and cause extensive damage. It [sun burst] would charge-up our electrical equipment and destroy them. The ramped up solar activity is to be expected through 2013, as it is the peak of the sun’s current 11-year cycle.”
Professor Lopez also noted that such a solar flare could cause $2 trillion worth of damage. Repairing a downed power grid could take months or perhaps years to repair. The transformers needed to repair the grid are not manufactured in America. Should a massive CME inflict damage on a world-wide scale, it could be impossible to gather the parts necessary to put the power grid back online.
Approximately every decade the chance for a massive coronal mass ejection occurs. In 1989, a CME took down part of the power grid in Canada and northern New York. The last massive Earth-directed solar flare was dubbed the Carrington Event and took place in 1859. There was obviously no power grid to destroy in the 1800s, but telegraph lines failed and even spurred fires in operator’s offices.
Are you concerned about solar flares and a downed power grid?