PITTSBURGH (NewsRadio 1020 KDKA) – Do you remember what you were doing on this day two years ago?
Probably not. For most that day was likely just a regular day, but maybe we should have been on higher alert.
After reviewing data, scientist have recently discovered that a solar flare was closer to having a significant effect on Earth than originally thought.
Carles Badenes, Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s Physics and Astronomy Department, joined Bill Rehkopf on the KDKA Afternoon News to talk about the close call.
He explained that the sun goes in cycles and there are times where the sun goes through a heightened period of activity during the peak of that cycle.
“Part of this heightened period of activity is what we called coronal mass ejections, which are basically trillions of high energy particles ejected from the sun,” Badens explains. “Now the one on 2012 that has just been reported by NASA was particularly powerful and it did not cross Earth’s path, but there was a NASA satellite that was just in the middle of it and the report that this hit the news now is sort of a summary of the data the satellite collected.”
If this would have occurred about a week earlier, it would have been in the Earth’s path.
But what does that mean for us? No, we are not talking extinction like the Dinosaurs, but our technology would have been put out of commission.
“The problem is that our power network that we use sort of operates at capacity, so there is very little margin for anything and, this sort of thing happened before. Right in 1989, I think it was a much smaller coronal mass ejection hit Earth, and it took down a large part of Canada’s power grid for several hours,” Badenes said.
While we are unsure of exactly how bad this could have been for Earth, because a solar flare that size last known record of hitting Earth was in 1859 and power grids did not exist then. However it did have an effect on the telegraph network causing sparks from wires even some reported fires.
Since a coronal mass ejection of that size has not his Earth in this modern technology-filled era, it is hard to predict what would happen.
So Badenes explains why some people were very worked up Monday about the report, saying there are optimistic and pessimistic sides to every story and in this case the pessimistic sides were pretty bad.
“I guess a close parallel would be this asteroid impact. Little asteroids hit Earth all the time but, if you wait for a long time then you get a really large impact like the one that wiped out the Dinosaurs and it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when, you know how long is it going to be before this happens,” Badenes said.
You can listen to the whole interview with Carles Badenes below:
Catch the KDKA Afternoon News with Bill Rehkopf weekdays 3-7pm.