How the Sun Could Cause a 'Global Katrina'

"This issue of space weather has got to be taken seriously," UK science advisor John Beddington said this week, and boy, John, we are right there with you on that, especially because you are telling everyone that a bad solar storm could lead to a $2 trillion "global Katrina." We are taking especially seriously, for example, the fact that a period of maximum solar energy is approaching (it kicks off in 2013), and, shockingly, we appear to be deeply reliant on complex networks of technology that are inadequately protected:

A solar storm starts with a solar flare that is accompanied by a burst of electromagnetic radiation that, when it arrives at Earth, ionises the outer atmosphere. On the ground, we would be safe but GPS satellites and others would be affected.

"GPS is a critical part of almost everything we do," said Thomas Bogdan, director of the Space Weather Prediction Centre in Colorado. "The ubiquitous need for an uninterrupted power supply, satellite-delivered services – every time you go to a gas station and purchase a gallon of gas with your credit card, that's a satellite transaction taking place – and, of course, aviation and communications. We have made our lives increasingly dependent on these things, but each of them carries vulnerabilities to space weather with them."

Kill us, but spare our satellites, please! And that doesn't even get into the part where "electric currents... surge along oil pipelines and high-tension electricity lines," causing mass blackouts. On the plus side, "people would see a lightshow in the sky similar to the aurora borealis," but, come on, we all knew the apocalypse would look awesome.

There's still time though, folks! Bogdan says that "Power companies could prepare by hardening transformers at substations and installing capacitors to soak up current surges." And you can prepare by making a bimonthly sacrifice to the sun-god Tonatiuh. Good luck! I will be in my woods cabin.

[Guardian; image via AP]