In this guide we’ll help you understand solar flares, discuss if you should even be concerned and what steps to take to prepare for such an event.
A Solar Who?
Earth gets it’s light and heat from our nearest star, the Sun. Unfortunately, the Sun, as beautiful and beneficial as it is, does emit solar flares. A solar flare is observed as a bright flash on the Sun’s surface, the energy of which is the equivalent of up to 6 × 1025 joules of energy (or about 160,000,000,000 megatons of TNT). They are often followed by a huge coronal mass ejection. The flare ejects electrons, ions, and atoms through the corona of the sun into space and, sometimes, straight for Earth. These clouds of electrons, ions and atoms typically reach Earth a day or two after the event.
X-rays and ultra-violet radiation emitted by solar flares can affect Earth’s ionosphere and disrupt long-range radio communications and may disturb the operation of radar and other devices that use those frequencies.
Are Solar Flares Dangerous
Like all potential threats, solar flares and their effect on your life is speculative. For example, if you’re in a rural area with little reliance on electrical technologies, you most likely won’t be affected too adversely. However, if you’re in the middle of a large city – well…you’re screwed. Fortunately, a solar flare is harmless to Earth’s living organisms because we are protected from radiation by our magnetic field and atmosphere. So why are solar flares dangerous?
Solar flares can produce streams of highly energetic particles in the solar wind, known as a solar proton event. These particles can impact the Earth’s magnetosphere and present radiation hazards to spacecraft and astronauts. Additionally, like we mentioned earlier, massive solar flares are sometimes accompanied by coronal mass ejections which can trigger geomagnetic storms that have been known to disable satellites and knock out electric power grids for extended periods of time.
The soft X-ray flux of flares increases the ionization of the upper atmosphere, which can interfere with short-wave radio communication and can heat the outer atmosphere and increase the drag on low-orbiting satellites, which can lead to the satellites falling out of orbit. Energy in the form of hard x-rays can be damaging to spacecraft electronics and are generally the result of large plasma ejection in the upper chromosphere.
The radiation risks posed by solar flares are a major concern in discussions of space travel. The astronauts will be outside the Earth’s protective atmosphere and, therefore, subject to the full force of the radiation in the solar wind.
What to expect if a Solar Flare happens in America
“Power outages would be accompanied by radio blackouts and satellite malfunctions; telecommunications, GPS navigation, banking and finance, and transportation would all be affected,” – NASA
If a solar flare were to directly shower the United States with its ions and atoms and what-not, it would cause one of the most crippling disasters in the history of our country with losses to include;
- Power Outages – Electric plants would be out of commission.
- Water Distribution – Public water is supplied via electric pumps. So, too, are private wells. However, these usually have an alternative, manual pumping method.
- Perishable Foods and Medications would be lost – No electricity, no fridge.
- Heating and Air Conditioning would a thing of the past – Man, we REALLY rely on electricity.
- Cellphone Towers AND Land Lines would be disabled – Again, no electricity. Also, the ions and atoms would be scrambling transmissions.
- Fuel Shortages – Gas pumps are powered, obviously, by electricity.
- Stores and Shops – With no power stores won’t be able to sell their wares. Probably won’t matter…I’m sure the criminals and panicked masses will loot the stores bare.
And… cue chaos. If a flare were to hit us so hard as to take out all the everyday necessities, the malcontents in this country will take full advantage, just like they have time and again when disasters have struck. America today has a large population of selfish, ignorant, immoral people.
Should I Prepare
Luckily, this threat isn’t as hard to prepare for. Our warning time increases from the 10-60 minute preparation time to a full 12 hours, allowing energy and utility companies to prepare for the disruption. However, if a big enough flare hits, no amount of warning will matter. Unprotected electronics will be fried, the electrical grid will be destroyed and even cars will cease to operate.
How To Prepare
Think about the steps you take when you lose power due to a storm or a transformer on your block suddenly blowing. This prep will mainly be one of hunkering down, defending your castle and waiting for life to be restored to your normally scheduled monotony. Most utility companies are prepared for this scenario. If you prepare your home, your day-to-day home life shouldn’t be affected too badly and should be restored in about a week (depending on the amount of damage).
A solar flare is tantamount to an EMP blast and can induce high currents and voltages in a device, damaging electrical equipment or disrupting its function.
There are a few things that can help you out in this specific scenario:
- Faraday Cage – to keep your cell phones, computers and tablets in. It’s also a good idea to keep a set of Walkie-Talkies and batteries in your Faraday cage. Remember, we have plenty of warning so you’ll be able to gather your items and put them inside the cage before the flare hits.
- Solar or Wind Powered Battery Charger – for lights, entertainment, and anything else you have rigged to run on battery power.
- Generator – perfect to keep your fridge running.
- 1 Week of Food / water – in case it takes longer than expected for services to be restored and you run out of normal food supplies.
- Battery Powered Lights – you should have at least one per room so if someone needs to go from room to room they won’t take the only light source with them.
Some people advocate keeping any and all electrical devices in a Faraday cage. It can’t hurt but simple things like flashlights without circuitry in them will be fine. Anything with any kind of circuit board in it HAS to be in the Faraday cage. The effects of the solar flare will fry components of the circuit boards and the device will be useless.