With the largest solar storm since 2005 lighting up the night skies this week after a pair of solar flares sent streams of charged particles hurtling toward the earth, prophets of doom have been lighting up the Internet.
Bob Thiel, a self-described "Church History and End Times Examiner" and author of 2012 and the Rise of the Secret Sect, wrote yesterday: "Worse solar flares will ultimately happen after the 'Great Tribulation' begins (Revelation 16: 8-9), and one or more that affect satellites and electricity could happen even today." Hmm. Interesting.
Although very serious questions do exist about the readiness of our electric power grid and satellite infrastructure to withstand a major solar storm like the one in 1859 that shorted out telegraph wires and caused aurorae so bright a crew of gold miners in Colorado reportedly got out of bed in the middle of the night to cook breakfast, the current increase in solar activity is part of a regular 11-year cycle and poses no special risk, according to NASA heliophysicist Alex Young. (See the video above.) And anyway, Young says, the peak isn't expected to hit until 2014, well after the Mayan calendar has run its course.
For an interesting discussion about the past week's solar activity you can listen to Phil Plait, author of Discover Magazine's "Bad Astronomy" blog, in an interview yesterday with Patt Morrison of Los Angeles public radio KPCC. And for a look at the earth-directed coronal mass ejection of January 22, you can watch another NASA video below.