Dodging Bullets

While dodging bullets is not a recommended practice, it is considered far superior to not dodging bullets. What is he talking about?, I hear. This, apparently we got lucky last month, and missed getting hit by a good sized Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). NASA seems to think that if it had happened a week earlier, it would have made a direct hit. Could be, it has before.

Back in 1859, there was the Carrington Event, a series of powerful CMEs that were powerful enough to set off telegraph instruments all over the world, even causing them to spark and set some telegraph offices on fire. It also caused the Northern Lights as far south as Tahiti. Now the thing is, in 1859 the telegraph was about as high tech as it got, and electric/electronics technology is the most susceptible to plasma events; steam locomotives don’t care, computer controlled diesel -electric ones do.

And that’s why it matters now. In 1859 we could afford to rebuild an occasional telegraph office. Now our entire world is tied up in it. Let’s think about this a bit. The backbone of the internet may, repeat may, be somewhat resistant, given that it is fiber optic, but most of us have metallic links, either telephonic, or cable to that backbone. Satellites depend, the plasma may take them apart, (I can see a couple of ways, but don’ know enough in the field).

But the biggie here is the power grid. If you are old enough, you may remember the New York Blackout in 1965. Here is a bit from Wikipedia about it

The cause of the failure was human error that happened days before the blackout. Maintenance personnel incorrectly set a protective relay on one of the transmission lines between the Niagara generating station Sir Adam Beck Station No. 2 in Queenston, Ontario. The safety relay, which was to trip if the current exceeded the capacity of the transmission line, was set too low.

As was common on a cold November evening, power for heating, lighting and cooking was pushing the electrical system to near its peak capacity. Transmission lines heading into Southern Ontario were heavily loaded. At 5:16 p.m. Eastern Time a small surge of power coming from the Robert Moses generating plant in Lewiston, New York caused the improperly set relay to trip at far below the line’s rated capacity, disabling a main power line heading into Southern Ontario. Instantly, the power that was flowing on the tripped line transferred to the other lines, causing them to become overloaded. Their protective relays, which are designed to protect the line from overload, tripped, isolating Beck Station from all of Southern Ontario.

With no place else to go, the excess power from Beck Station then switched direction and headed east over the interconnected lines into New York State, overloading them as well and isolating the power generated in the Niagara region from the rest of the interconnected grid. The Beck generators, with no outlet for their power, were automatically shut down to prevent damage. The Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant continued to generate power, which supplied Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation customers in the metropolitan areas

But the thing is the grid in 1965 was a mechanical beast, it could cascade tripping out like it did, but men had to go around and reset many of those devices, find enough power to flash generators and sundry other tasks, that’s why it took as long as it did to get everybody back on. […]

But now, we have the super-duper computerized grid, that we can control all those protective devices from our power control centers. It is an incredible accomplishment, but nothing is perfect. I suspect that a plasma event will set up surges in these lines that will trip out overload devices, over much more territory than the northeast, because we are much more connected now. If that’s all it does, it’ll take a bit but our power will be back in a few hours or days, no big deal.

But power lines collect stray energy like nothing else, men have been killed by a lightning strike on a line a hundred miles away. What happens if that plasma event get into electronics that control the grid, or for that matter the office you work at, your house, our world really. What then? All those computers installed in your appliances are built in computer controlled factories. The food you eat comes to you on railroads and in trucks. Both are controlled by computers. So are our cars. they are all more, or less liable to damage from a surge. And a CME is the great grand-father of surges.

How long do you think it will to replace all this stuff to the level of say 1980? I’d say it will be measured in years, not months. I would also say that if you are not prepared both mentally and at least to some extent physically, you likely will not see it.

You know, we have talked about EMP attacks occasionally, this is an EMP attack on the entire world.

Or not. No one really knows.

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