Skip to content | Skip to menu | Skip to search

Banbury Cross

a pillow for lost thoughts...

Archives for: September 2014

Solar storm of 1859

The finer the instrument, the more fragile and breakable it is.

If you grab a simple axe, you can toss it into a pile of wood, you can hammer a rusty nail with it, you can dump it in the pond and it stays nearly intact. Its practical utility remains unchanged.

Now if you do the same with a cell phone, it is an entirely new ballgame. A mere drop on the floor may play havoc with its delicate circuitry. You have to cherish your phone and protect it from elements and from misuse.

Our technology is like that too. Centuries ago, it was but a blunt axe and we could disregard all kinds of dangers. Our world was fairly robust then. These days our dependence on electronics, chemistry and cheap energy has reached levels where we have to start thinking very seriously about protecting them from all kinds of cosmic dangers.

Some 155 years ago, on September 2, 1859, a massive solar storm tore across the vast open spaces and hit the Earth. Northern lights were seen as far south as Rome or Atlanta. The telegraph poles were alive with sparks. Yet despite the brute force of charged particles, not much damage was done to the Earth's primitive and rudimentary technology. The storm of similar magnitude would cause severe damage to our present way of life. The power grid would fry, transformers would fry.

Fortunately, events like that do not occur very frequently. But we need to be prepared for its eventual return. We no longer use stone axes. A lot of sensitive machinery has been woven into the electronic tapestry of modern life. And most of our wealth rests on it one way or another. Sooner or later, a storm of lethal magnitude is bound to come back with a vengeance.

But when you open your average newspaper, you won't find this on the list of top concerns of global elites. They, apparently, have plenty of problems with each other. And that does not bode well for the future. In lieu of fomenting whatever little family squabbles we have over the resources of this planet, we should protect our electronic plumbing. For without it, all the resources you can shake a stick at will be of little use to us. Because on that day, the civilization as we know it will cease to function.

This site works better with web standards! Original skin design courtesy of Tristan NITOT.