Saturday, February 11, 2017

Carrington Events

The original Carrington event was caused by a solar flare that hit the earth on September 1 and 2, 1859.

"Northern Lights" were seen as far south as Cuba in the Caribbean.

Telegraph operators were shocked by their equipment.  Paper caught on fire due to sparks.

Much has been written about the impact a similar event would have on our much more intensively "wired" modern world.  It would not be good.  Integrated circuits are exquisitely sensitive to voltage surges.

How long do Carrington events last?
One detail that intrigued me was the possibility of the event only hitting one hemisphere.  Is it possible that the event would burn out in less than twelve hours and only take one hemisphere, or portions of one hemisphere, back to the stone age?

There is actually some pretty good data available HERE from the July 2012 event that narrowly missed the earth.  Even though it missed the earth it came close enough that satellites orbiting the earth were able to collect some very high quality data.

Unfortunately, I do not have the background to determine if the most applicable chart is the middle one (ten hours of risk) or the bottom one (25 hours of elevated risk).  Maybe one of my readers (Old NFO, Remus, help me out here, guys) can chime in.

Another question is, suppose we had advance knowledge.  Suppose we saw Europe being hammered and knew that our turn in the barrel would occur in five hours.  What could we do?  Do we pull all of our breakers and unplug all of our devices?  Do we put the most fragile equipment in steel garbage cans or refrigerators?

From a numerical modeling standpoint, nothing makes systems "behave" better than power consuming devices.  In electrical systems that would be resistance.  Sadly, incandescent light bulbs are hard to find.  Pulling all of the breakers and leaving all of the incandescent light fixtures on would be a pretty good way to tamp-down any voltage spikes that might occur.

The consequences of latitude
One of the more recent EMP events hit Quebec's power grid in March of 1989.

It may not be a coincidence that the event happened in Canada.  The lower latitudes are more protected from solar winds than higher latitudes.  That is why Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) are not visible in regions closer to the Equator.

If higher latitudes are more exposed, then Europe is at risk.  Montreal, Quebec is at the same latitude (45th parallel) as Milan, Italy.  If Europe is at risk, then so is Russia.
The red line denotes the 37th parallel
On the other hand, all of the Asian Tigers are below the 45th parallel.  Much of China's industrial regions and all of India's are below the 37th parallel.  In the United States, San Francisco, California and Richmond, Virginia straddle the 37th parallel.

Stuff to think about.