What the Hell is a CME?
CME stands for coronal mass ejection, a coronal mass ejection is an eruption of electrons and protons (plasma) from the surface of the sun often following a solar flare (as seen below). Coronal mass ejections usually occur during the solar maximum, the more active phase in the suns eleven year solar cycle. CME’s are caused by the switching of the suns magnetic poles which occurs during the suns solar maximum.
Why is it so Dangerous?
In a nutshell our power systems work by transporting electrons from one place to another. When the plasma from a large scale CME hits Earths magnetic field (as seen below on the right), some of it breaks through and reaches the surface of Earth. Some of this plasma which reaches the surface of the Earth will come into contact with our power infrastructure. After this happens, some of the electrons present in the plasma will be absorbed into our power lines, our phones, our electric pumps, the electrics of our cars and all other electrical devices in our lives. Once this happens, there are two many electrons in the circuit of those electrical devices and they overload, breaking. In a large scale CME, almost ALL electrical devices would Shut Down. This means no food, no water, no medicine, no transport, no communication. If society didn’t collapse then the damage would cost hundreds of TRILLIONS and large portions of society would die, sending us back to the 1700s.
Holy Crap! When is it Going to Happen?
Well, the last large scale CME occurred in 1859. Fortunately, there weren’t many electrical devices in 1856 but it did cause a few telegraph stations to go up in flames. The solar storm of 1859 was a produced a particularly ginormous CME, and if it occurred today the implications could be society ending. Despite this, you can except to see a large one every 100 years or so. These CME’s would have devastating effects, with trillions of dollars of damage and many potentially millions dead. However they likely wouldn’t end civilisation as a whole, instead just setting us back a few decades. But this doesn’t mean you are safe, remember the chance of one hitting earth is 11% every decade making it likely for one to hit in your life time.
How Can I Prepare?
Well becoming a dooms day preper would work. Stocking up on guns, rice, water and water purifiers as well as any basic medical supplies. Any electrical devices you want to save can either go into an underground basement or into a plastic (or rubber) bag, into a box with a few layers tin foil. This creates what is known as a Faraday’s cage and the electricity prefers to make its way through the tin foil and into the ground rather than through the electrically resistive plastic. Good luck and here is a nice photo of the sun to remind you of all the good it does for us.
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