I know I should worry about this but frankly…it might be beyond my pay grade! The UK Cabinet Office is warning us (as NASA has in the past) that the world will only have 12-hours of warning about the arrival of a coronal mass ejection (CME) that could damage the National Grid, pipelines and railway signals. BTW, a coronal mass ejection is huge burst of solar wind and magnetic fields from the Sun.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is exploring the risk to the UK from “severe space weather”, which it says results from various types of solar activity. The report, the Space Weather Preparedness Strategy, states: “Solar activity can produce x-rays, high-energy particles and coronal mass ejections (CME) of plasma. Where such activity is directed towards Earth there is the potential to cause wide-ranging impacts. These include power loss, aviation disruption, communication loss, and disturbance to (or loss of) satellite systems.”

The department has developed a “reasonable worst case scenario” based on the Carrington event of 1859, which included the strongest recorded incidents of coronal mass ejection, as well as solar flare-related x-rays and a radiation storm. “Most coronal mass ejections are not emitted in the direction of Earth,” the report says. “Those that are typically take one to three days to reach us, and we can predict the arrival time to within about six hours. Predictions are currently less accurate due to degradation in the satellite capability available to forecasters.

Cme - Earth“Generally speaking, the faster the ejection, the greater the potential impacts. The Carrington event, for example, travelled to Earth in as little as 18 hours. It is therefore likely that our reasonable worst case scenario would only allow us 12 hours from observation to impact.”

The Carrington event is often described as the perfect storm. The modern day effects of a similar event would include localized power outages; disruption of satellite operations, including to GPS and satellite communications; disruption to high-frequency communications; increased radiation to aircrew and passengers in flight, particularly over polar regions; and further disturbances to small-part electronic systems.

The report goes on to say that members of the public have been advised to plan for the effects of severe space weather in the same way as they would for other natural hazards such as a flood or storm. That is one heck of a flood!

Download the 33-page document for an interesting read. A good glass of something in hand might make it a bit more tolerable. ;-)