Apocalypse Not Quite Yet: Why Solar Storms Won’t End the World in 2012

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 Sectwrote 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’“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.

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