We wake up in the morning to the sound of an alarm that was set on a smartphone, only to stumble out of bed, turn on the TV or radio to listen to the news, pop some bread into the toaster and boil the kettle for a nice cup of tea. Ah, isn’t technology convenient?! In the modern world there are many of us that are so accustomed to the use of technology that it is almost unimaginable not having it to accompany us in our daily tasks. This being said, it is strange to think that less than 200 years ago, a mere blink in time, the lightbulb was being developed and created. So when we think about why we use technology, there are many answers; convenience, time-efficiency, a connection to the world around us, etc. But perhaps a better question is: what would we do if it suddenly disappeared?
Don’t laugh … it could happen.
Solar flares are defined as a moment when the sun releases a burst of energy, which is caused by a build up of heat that has usually come from the centre of the star and is contained under a sun spot, resulting in an explosion of sorts where energy and light is released into the vast emptiness of space. However, this is different to another phenomenon called a ‘coronal mass ejection’ (CME), where bodies of plasma are ejected from the sun, resulting from a solar flare, and released into space. CMEs are magnetically charged by the sun and can cause geomagnetic storms on Earth, therefore affecting large portions of the technology on or orbiting around the planet that we call home. These forces can take just hours to reach the Earth.
In 1859, a solar flare that sparked an event known as the Carrington Event took place, and is now known as the largest solar flare recorded in modern times. However, in 1859 there were only very minor forms of technology being used and this consisted mostly of telegraph poles and lines, but despite this, the effects of the solar flare were huge. Auroras could be seen within a very close proximity to the Earth’s equator, with such force that some believed that the sun had begun to rise when it had not. Other reports from witnesses of the Carrington Event had documented seeing some of the equipment used in sending telegraphs combusting into flames, and, because the air was so charged, there were circumstances where the lines could be disconnected from their batteries and power sources, and still work.
If a solar flare of this magnitude were to occur today, it is predicted that there would be even bigger effects on society. Billions of dollars worth of damage would be done. A number of satellites would be wiped out, power grids could shut down, and simple everyday functions that technology undertakes such as the pumping of water to and from buildings could cease. If an event like this were to happen, it is said that it would take years to rebuild. This begs a number of questions, like whether things would be done differently if there had to be a technological rebuild. So, are we right to be pre-cautious? Solar flares, as frightening as they sound, are a reality, and who knows? As you read this, we could be about to experience one right now.
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