What is a Coronal Mass Ejection and Why Should You Care?

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Three weeks ago if someone mentioned a CME was on its way I would have looked at them with a raised brow and a questioning look, not even pretending to understand.  For the uninformed – as I was until a week ago – CME stands for Coronal Mass Ejection.  In simplistic terms, this refers to large plasma ball full of charged geomagnetic particles that is emitted by the sun.

So why should we care?

Well for one, by the time you read this or shortly thereafter, a large solar strike may hit earth with the potential to disrupt our daily lives in an unpredictable manner.  You see, from what I have discovered, scientists are now anticipating if not predicting a high-consequence, low-frequency event.  Or what, in layman’s terms, we call a 100 year storm.

Solar CME Aug 2011NASA astronomers report that the sun is entering the most violent period of its normal 11-year cycle. This interval of high activity, called the solar maximum, is expected to peak in 2013.  Will 2013 be the 100 year event?  Who knows.  What we do know is that in the meantime, we are starting to experience the precursor to the big event now and that scientists expect this latest solar burst will ultimately trigger one of the most violent geomagnetic storms ever recorded.

According to Popular Science, a direct hit from one of these once-every-100-year CME’s would travel to earth at up to six million mph and could arrive in as little at 18 hours.  Along the way, it would produce shock waves that could damage satellites and emit a high level of radiation to everything along its path.

Think about that:  18 hours.  That does not give us much time to prepare if we are starting from ground zero.  And what will happen on  the 19th hour?  Here is spinoff:

Lights:  Blackouts and brownouts could affect hundreds of thousands or even millions of people and leave them in the dark for an extended period.

Transportation: Traffic signals will malfunction and without power, gas pumps will not work.  Public transportation will come to a standstill.

Water:  If the water pumps fail, there will be a dangerous backflow through the pipes resulting in bacteria and other forms of contamination.  There may not be adequate potable water, even if filtering systems are available.

Food:  Without power, fuel and transportation, the grocery shelves will be empty within days.

Communication:  The communication satellites will be toast.  Don’t count on your cell phones or land lines working.  There will not be much you can do about this so be aware.  You might want to befriend your local ham radio operator (or, in preparation for 2013, become one yourself).

Health and Medicine:  Medical facilities and hospitals will suffer as their backup generators run out of fuel.  People will die if the power goes down for a prolonged period.  Let us hope that this does not happen.

Civil unrest and chaos:  People will be angry, frustrated and fearful.  They will take to the streets.

With the potential of the power grid being either down or flakey for a while, make sure that your preps are in order.  Specifically:

  • Have plenty of emergency candles, matches, flashlights and extra batteries.
  • Keep your fuel tanks topped off.  Traffic signals may not work but at least you will be able to get around.
  • Store plenty of drinkable water plus some method to purify water. Locate supplemental water sources now and be prepared to purify the water on your own.
  • Stock plenty of non-perishable food.  And for heavens sake, make sure you have a manual can opener.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle.  Over the long term, sh*t is bound to happen.  You will be much better off if you are healthy on not reliant on exotic prescription drugs or medical procedures.  Eat healthy, natural and real foods and get regular exercise.  This just makes good common sense.
  • TVs, video games and computers will not have the power to run.  Stock up on board games, books, and puzzles to keep your mind occupied while you wait out the crisis.
  • Be prepared to defend yourself.  You need to decide how you want to arm yourself whether will firearms, baseball bats, or a bow and arrow.  Whatever you choose, just do it.

aurora

And from the not so bad news department:  Another side effect of this latest CME is that the Northern Lights, normally confined to polar latitudes, may produce dazzling displays as far south as the state of Florida.  Now that would be a sight to see!

Wondering what NASA is doing about this? You might find this article from PC Magazine interesting: How NASA Is Preparing for the Next Solar Flare.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
Gaye

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Comments

What is a Coronal Mass Ejection and Why Should You Care? — 21 Comments

  1. The solar flares also trigger EMP’s which according to the NOAO website could disrupt the power grid, especially the entire Eastern U.S. for months or years. The EMP (electro magnetic Pulse) would shut down Nuclear power plants, etc. for years. Now is the time to be prepared, so I suggest everyone check out the article on NOAO website. I feel this is a very real threat and one we cannot control but we can be prepared to take care of our familes and don’t forget the pets. Anyone with good ideas on how to store large supplies of dry dog food?

    • Renee – My dog is only six pounds but even so, I always have about 20 or 30 pounds of kibble in reserve as well as two dozen small cans of Little Caesar (he only gets a spoonful added to his kibble a day). I plan to write about this in a week or so, but I have discovered buckets with gamma seals! I am packaging the dog food in small units using my food saver bags and an oxygen absorber and then sealing multiple packets up in a bucket. I have done a lot of research this past month on the gamma seal versus mylar bag issue and feel I have come up with a reasonable solution that is quick and easy.

      We are storing our buckets on pallets in the crawl space under our house so they are out of the main traffic area but still available so our little Tucker-man will have food for at least a year.

      — Gaye

  2. Gaye: in addition to all that you talked about when a CME strikes, and depending upon it’s severity, it is my understanding that the automobiles of today may be disabled also. This is due to the fact they all have a small computer that controls almost all aspects of the vehicle, namely the electrical systerm. I am told that vehicles manufactured before about 1985 will not be affected. Thank goodness we have a pre-1985 pickup. But I wonder just how safe it would be to take it out on the streetss after the SHTF????

    • Over the years I have experienced unexplained electrical weirdness that has come in waves. I now know that this was caused by rolling EMPs. And you are right, this is going to affect our vehicles plus, even if we have power/fuel for our generators, a CME will affect everything from our washing machines to our kitchen appliances. Microchips are everywhere.

      I feel as though I am tough enough to handle any crisis but the chaos and civil unrest on the streets will be a challenge. As much as I hate guns, firearms will be a necessity so getting training now is at the top of the list.

      — Gaye

      • I first heard about this possibility (CME) about a year ago. As I understand it, in the event we experience another one like happened about 100 years ago, we will all end up living as they did in the pioneer days, i.e., Little House On The Prairie.
        By the way, it does not have to be a solar flare. The same effect can be achieved by exploding a nuclear device in the atmosphere, as they discovered back in the 50’s while testing A-Bombs in the Pacific.
        An atmospheric A-Bomb explosion approximately 800 miles from the Hawaiian Islands knocked out their electrical grid….China and Russia both have the capability of delivering one of these devices to our mainland…..
        The overhaead explosion itself would not kill anyone, but the destruction of the power grid would result in the deaths of millions from starvation and lack of winter heat. Sorry for the grim reality….
        Get your garden plot ready, and tools and heirloom seeds stored away. A years supply of stored food won’t last long. Do your research on how the pioneers lived and survived. Get your recipes off the Web for food people ate during the Great Depression. Good luck.

        • Mark, I sometimes feel as though I lived another life in the pioneer days. At glitzy as I tend to get sometimes, I still love to dress myself in “little house on the prairie” outfits with hiking boots on my feet. Go figure. I like your idea of searching for recipes circa the depression. I inherited a box of old cookbooks and should look them over. My guess is that I will find lots of ideas for cooking on the cheap with limited rations.

          — Gaye

  3. Several posters have equated nuclear EMP with solar EMP. They are not the same. Solar EMP has only one of the three components produced by nuclear EMP. Solar EMP only induces current in long conductors. This can have serious consequences for power systems and devices connected to them. Most notably power transformers not produced in USA are at risk and could take years to replace.

    Microprocessors in mobile devices not connected to the grid, large antennas, or other large conductors should not be affected by CME pulses. That said, it does not matter much if your devices survive, if you have no energy to run them. Even if you do have energy, cell phones are of little use without the towers, and computer’s uses are limited without the internet.

    Some things to consider:
    How much fuel do you have for your generator? If it is connected (standby) do you have a backup or can you operate manually till danger is passed? Do you have a place to get more fuel that has backup power? Do you have enough solar power to at least charge batteries?

  4. There are two good DVD’s out on EMP. One is “Electronic Armageddon” which is a one hour National Geographic production and deals with both nuclear and natural EMP.

    The Discovery Channel put out a series of five natural disaster videos some years back, they are like docu-dramas in that they have characters and follow a plot but are primarily designed to let people learn about the subject matter. “Solar Storm” dealt with a coronal mass ejection with the necessary polarization to do a lot of damage. I have never been able to find it on DVD but it does show on Discovery Channel from time to time. I probably missed it in the post or the comments, but the book “One Second After” by William Forstchen is a fictionalized account of a coronal ejection event so terrific that it brings about a collapse situation on a major scale.

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