Solar Flares : The Most Likely Cause For The End Of The World In 2012?
Really? The End Of The World?
With December 21st, 2012 deemed the possible end of everything ... many theories are cropping up as to just how this apocalyptic end will come about. Everything from alien attack, judgment day, to meteor strikes have been proposed as a possible way the world will end. While many of these are just pure fantasy or the religious ramblings of doomsayers, one possibility does hold some (albeit very unlikely) scientific credibility ... Solar Flares.
Now, before we get started - let me first add a little disclaimer. I don't think the world is going to end in 2012. The possibility of a solar flare destroying the world is next to nil ... and yet it is still the best theory as to how the world might be destroyed in 2012. To understand just why some people have clamped on to this idea, we must first look at the scientific evidence.
First and foremost, solar flares do have the ability to release so much energy (100 billion atomic bombs worth) that the destruction of the Earth is possible. However, this energy is released inside the bowels of the sun millions of miles away. The actual blast would have zero impact on the Earth.
There have been solar flares recorded that could have easily destroyed the Earth .. however, these flares didn't come from our sun, but rather were seen on stars hundreds of light years away. Add to that that the most violent solar eruptions happen in unstable, binary star systems, and the possibility of our relatively stable sun making a killer solar flare very unlikely.
The dangerous part of a solar flare is the coronal mass ejection (CME) which jets out from the solar surface with a tremendous amount of speed and energy. If a massive solar flare release a CME and Earth just happened to be in the path - you might expect us to be obliterated. But, again, the fact is that the Earth is fairly well protected from these CME's and, in fact, we get hit with them on occasion without any ill effects. Most commonly, energy released from the sun in such a way can be viewed in the form of the beautiful auroras, or Northern Lights.
End of the World?
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So Why 2012?
The reason that most doomsayers have predicted 2012 as the year a massive solar flare will strike the Earth and destroy civilization also has a bit of science about it. The Sun goes through a solar cycle ever 11 years where solar activity peaks and solar flares are much more likely. The next solar maxim (period of increased solar activity) is scheduled to take place during 2012. However, keep in mind that this is still a fairly common event. The last one took place during 2002-2003 ... and nothing terrible happened.
In fact, major solar flares have been recorded hitting Earth in the past. In 1889, scientist witnessed and recorded a massive solar ejection which lasted about 5 minutes. The next day the aurora lit up the skies as far south as the Bahamas. The sky was so bright at night you could reportedly read a newspaper as easily as if it were daytime. However, nothing bad happened then ... read more about it here.
But if such a flare was to hit the Earth today, it might be a completely different story. Solar flares have a habit of playing havoc with communications - especially radio waves. A massive solar flare can also damage the electric grid, as witnessed in Quebec in 1989 where 6 million people lost power. Quebec was completely paralyzed for 9 hours while repair crews raced to repair the damage. This shows that our world today is much more vulnerable to solar activity than in the past because of our dependence on our electric grid.
How Would The World End?
So lets say that in the off chance a massive solar flare struck the Earth, somehow ripped through the ionosphere, our magnetic field, and was not absorbed by our atmosphere (very unlikely). The world still wouldn't be destroyed. In fact, no one at all would die. There wouldn't be fire and brimstone falling from the sky or anything like that.
However, if such a flare DID hit our planet and happen to wipe out the electrical grid on a global level - life would cease to exist as we know it. Think of everything that would get fried if every electrical circuit on the planet was suddenly rendered inoperable. We wouldn't have electricity in our homes, many cars wouldn't work, communications would be completely destroyed, and everyone would be clueless as to what happened. Those that did understand what was going on would have no way of getting that information to the public.
If such a blast was damaging enough so that it would take months to repair, then we're looking at real panic. Food sources would start to run out at the grocery stores ... and that's IF you had cash to pay for them. If you rely on your debit or credit card, you can forget about them working. You wouldn't even be able to withdraw money from the ATM and the banks would have no way of looking up your account information. In an instant, peoples entire financial standing would be erased. You'd only have whatever you physically had with you when the CME destroyed the electrical gird.
Now the hysteria would start. People would start fighting, looting, and governments would begin to lose control. Without the ability to communicate, it would be next to impossible for the worlds governments to settle the masses and work on fixing the problem. Planes wouldn't fly, resources couldn't be transported, and a fix that might have taken a well organized government a few weeks to fix may, in fact, never be fixed at all. The world would plummet into complete anarchy ...
But This Isn't Going To Happen
Yes ... Stars have the ability of producing mass amounts of energy in short bursts. And yes, sometimes these bursts can hit planets. But - our sun is unlikely to create such a devastating burst and if it does, it's even more unlikely that it would be aimed at our little planet. So the odds of anarchy starting due to a solar flare are very very close to nil. But ... the possibility is out there.
However, where the sun is concerned, we may get some pretty fantastic light shows in 2012 :) I for one would love to see the auroras over my hometown. It would truly be an amazing site ... but not the end of the world ;)
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