Here Comes the Sun…

15 10 2011

I have a buddy who takes pretty pictures. (I lie, I have several…  I’m lucky that way). He recently posted an amazing picture of the Sun. I was happy to see the Sun so active.

When I was in college I worked in a museum. I was in charge of the telescope, and spent many days looking at the Sun (With proper filters, obviously). I started working there during the solar max cycle of 2001. I got a chance to see how the Sun’s activity diminished over the years until it became a very boring yellow yolk. I missed the sunspots, and the flares, and I’m happy to see them again, after all, they are about a year late.

What does that have to do with crisis communication, you ask? Well, the presence of sunspots signal solar magnetic activity. When this magnetic activity increases, we have more flares, and more coronal mass ejections. Coronal mass ejections are “waves” of charged particles emitted by the sun. When they are sent in the general direction of the Earth, they interact with the magnetic field and Van Allen’s belt and cause pretty aurorae.

That’s all well and good, you say, because everyone likes pretty colors in the sky. Well, yes and no. The problem with coronal mass ejections is that they are charged particles. These particles can cause power lines to overcharge and cause blackouts. It has happened before. In 1989  a solar storm plunged Quebec into darkness . Even when the Earth is not directly in their path, solar storms can “kill” satellites.

How does this relate to crisis communication, then? Well, a solar storm can overcharge electrical circuits and cause blackouts. New York city gets a lot of its electricity from Canada, Quebec, to be precise… see where I’m going? Cities like New York, London or Stockholm could be plunged into darkness. The satellites that bring us entertainment, information, GPS  and cell phone service could be disrupted, turned into zombiesats that just drift aimlessly in the blackness… You can agree with me that having large areas without electricity and satellite communication down would be kind of a crisis. An event like this could seriously disturb production, transportation (planes need GPS, and subways need electricity), put a strain on hospitals and other care centers, and plunge people into boredom (no electricity means no cable, after all)

I will not even get into the irony of this happening on 2012…

Sun, by Cesar Cantu

 

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