Bigger things to worry about than global warming: Scientists say a destructive solar blast narrowly missed Earth in 2012

Video follows of the July 23rd, 2012 Coronal Mass Ejection, said to be the fastest ever

From UC BERKELEY — Earth dodged a huge magnetic bullet from the sun on July 23, 2012.

According to University of California, Berkeley, and Chinese researchers, a rapid succession of coronal mass ejections — the most intense eruptions on the sun — sent a pulse of magnetized plasma barreling into space and through Earth’s orbit. Had the eruption come nine days earlier, when the ignition spot on the solar surface was aimed at Earth, it would have hit the planet, potentially wreaking havoc with the electrical grid, disabling satellites and GPS, and disrupting our increasingly electronic lives.

This movie shows a coronal mass ejection (CME) on the sun from July 22, 2012, at 10:00 p.m. EDT until 2 a.m. on July 23 as captured by NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory-Ahead (STEREO A). Because the CME headed in STEREO A’s direction, it appears like a giant halo around the sun. NOTE: This video loops 3 times.

The solar bursts would have enveloped Earth in magnetic fireworks matching the largest magnetic storm ever reported on Earth, the so-called Carrington event of 1859. The dominant mode of communication at that time, the telegraph system, was knocked out across the United States, literally shocking telegraph operators. Meanwhile, the Northern Lights lit up the night sky as far south as Hawaii.

In a paper appearing today (Tuesday, March 18) in the journal Nature Communications, former UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow and research physicist Ying D. Liu, now a professor at China’s State Key Laboratory of Space Weather, UC Berkeley research physicist Janet G. Luhmann and their colleagues report their analysis of the magnetic storm, which was detected by NASA’s STEREO A spacecraft.

“Had it hit Earth, it probably would have been like the big one in 1859, but the effect today, with our modern technologies, would have been tremendous,” said Luhmann, who is part of the STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory) team and based at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory.

A study last year estimated that the cost of a solar storm like the Carrington Event could reach $2.6 trillion worldwide. A considerably smaller event on March 13, 1989, led to the collapse of Canada’s Hydro-Quebec power grid and a resulting loss of electricity to six million people for up to nine hours.

“An extreme space weather storm — a solar superstorm — is a low-probability, high-consequence event that poses severe threats to critical infrastructures of the modern society,” warned Liu, who is with the National Space Science Center of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. “The cost of an extreme space weather event, if it hits Earth, could reach trillions of dollars with a potential recovery time of 4-10 years. Therefore, it is paramount to the security and economic interest of the modern society to understand solar superstorms.”

Fast-moving magnetic storm

Based on their analysis of the 2012 event, Liu, Luhmann and their STEREO colleagues concluded that a huge outburst on the sun on July 22 propelled a magnetic cloud through the solar wind at a peak speed of more than 2,000 kilometers per second, four times the typical speed of a magnetic storm. It tore through Earth’s orbit but, luckily, Earth and the other planets were on the other side of the sun at the time. Any planets in the line of sight would have suffered severe magnetic storms as the magnetic field of the outburst tangled with the planets’ own magnetic fields. The sun rotates every 25 days at the equator, so nine days earlier the ignition spot of the coronal mass ejections was pointed directly at Earth.

The researchers determined that the huge outburst resulted from at least two nearly simultaneous coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which typically release energies equivalent to that of about a billion hydrogen bombs. The speed with which the magnetic cloud plowed through the solar wind was so high, they concluded, because another mass ejection four days earlier had cleared the path of material that would have slowed it down.

“The authors believe this extreme event was due to the interaction of two CMEs separated by only 10 to 15 minutes,” said Joe Gurman, the project scientist for STEREO at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

One reason the event was potentially so dangerous, aside from its high speed, is that it produced a very long-duration, southward-oriented magnetic field, Luhmann said. This orientation drives the largest magnetic storms when they hit Earth because the southward field merges violently with Earth’s northward field in a process called reconnection. Storms that normally might dump their energy only at the poles instead dump it into the radiation belts, ionosphere and upper atmosphere and create auroras down to the tropics.

Coronal mass ejection

“These gnarly, twisty ropes of magnetic field from coronal mass ejections come blasting from the sun through the ambient solar system, piling up material in front of them, and when this double whammy hits Earth, it skews the Earth’s magnetic field to odd directions, dumping energy all around the planet,” she said.

Detecting solar blasts

“People keep saying that these are rare natural hazards, but they are happening in the solar system even though we don’t always see them,” she added. “It’s like with earthquakes — it is hard to impress upon people the importance of preparing unless you suffer a magnitude 9 earthquake.”

All this activity would have been missed if STEREO A — the STEREO spacecraft ahead of us in Earth’s orbit and the twin to STEREO B, which trails in our orbit — had not been there to record the blast.

The goal of STEREO and other satellites probing the magnetic fields of the sun and Earth is to understand how and why the sun sends out these large solar storms and to be able to predict them during the sun’s 11-year solar cycle. This event was particularly unusual because it happened during a very calm solar period.

“Observations of solar superstorms have been extremely lacking and limited, and our current understanding of solar superstorms is very poor,” Liu said. “Questions fundamental to solar physics and space weather, such as how extreme events form and evolve and how severe it can be at the Earth, are not addressed because of the extreme lack of observations.”

The work was supported by NASA. Other coauthors of the paper are Stuart D. Bale, director of UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory and professor of physics; Primož Kajdič and Benoit Lavraud of the Université de Toulouse; Emilia K. J. Kilpua of the University of Helsinki; Noé Lugaz, Charles J. Farrugia and Antoinette B. Galvin of the University of New Hampshire; Nariaki V. Nitta of Lockheed-Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory; Christian Möstl of the University of Graz and the Austria Space Research Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.


Observations of an extreme storm in interplanetary space caused by successive coronal mass ejections

doi:10.1038/ncomms4481  Liu et al.

Space weather refers to dynamic conditions on the Sun and in the space environment of the Earth, which are often driven by solar eruptions and their subsequent interplanetary disturbances. It has been unclear how an extreme space weather storm forms and how severe it can be. Here we report and investigate an extreme event with multi-point remote-sensing and in situ observations. The formation of the extreme storm showed striking novel features. We suggest that the in-transit interaction between two closely launched coronal mass ejections resulted in the extreme enhancement of the ejecta magnetic field observed near 1 AU at STEREO A. The fast transit to STEREO A (in only 18.6 h), or the unusually weak deceleration of the event, was caused by the preconditioning of the upstream solar wind by an earlier solar eruption. These results provide a new view crucial to solar physics and space weather as to how an extreme space weather event can arise from a combination of solar eruptions.


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Paywalled with a rental option if interested. Yes, I said you can rent the paper just like a movie.

Bill Illis

Shouldn’t there be new standards for electronic equipment to ensure they are hardened against solar storm damage. Obviously, this would be a huge cost but what if one of these events happened in January and everyone’s furnace, stove, and vehicles no longer worked. I mean there is civilization ending and then there is 500 million people trying to walk south in the dead of winter.


Carrington Events. Now there are catastrophes the children should be warned against. And maybe we could let them know that they are not their fault.


“… well we’re at 400 ppm already and these things are just going to keep becoming more and more likely if we keep ignoring what’s happening to our climate. At some point we’re going to rue the day that we failed to take heed of these increasingly obvious warning or the dangers of CO2 – we have to stop this craziness!” – Al Gore

D. Matteson

Put a tax on coronal mass ejections.
Problem solved.

Reblogged this on Public Secrets and commented:
As Maxwell Smart would have said, “Missed us by *that* much!”

José Tomás

If someone wishes to worry about the Apocalypse, this is the thing to worry about.

My understanding is that the shorter the length of wire is, the smaller the effect is. One reason telegraph operators got shocked in 1859 was that the telegraph lines were so long. They disconnected the lines from the power source, (some sort of battery,) but still got shocked.
I hope this means our modern laptops won’t sizzle and vanish in a puff of smoke, as the wires are far shorter.

Joe Public

Why ‘worry’ about something that happened in the past, about which at the time we were unaware?
Ignorance is bliss.

Man Bearpig

How long before Anthony gets the blame for this ?


Be a hoot if it was discovered that CO2 and other GHG’s negate or reduce the effects of CME’s.

given most drinking water systems need power to work and keep clean a big cme that blew the power would have a massive effect on society with no access to water or communication. people with guns would rule. its a much bigger munch scream than the co2 deathstar yet most the money goes into co2 not solar science.

The Pareto distribution, learn it, understand it and love it is named after the Italian civil engineer and economist Vilfredo Pareto, is a power law probability distribution that is used in description of social, scientific, geophysical, actuarial, and many other types of observable phenomena.
Live an antifragile lifestyle, things cannot be robust to Black Swan events.

Electric field strength is measured in volts x length^-1, length being of the conductor. Volts^2 x Resistance is the power dissipated in that conductor.

Joe Dunfee

Wouldn’t the money spent for supposedly green energy, be better spent on both the science to research these events, and for the infrastructure necessary to mitigate and recover from one?
And while I also like basic research into other areas of space science, we should prioritize. Mars is not going anywhere. So the billions we have spend visiting Mars, would better be spent visiting asteroids that may have their sights on visiting Earth.


I’ll bet you that’s what caused the Carrington event.
I don’t think the issues will be quite as bad as people fear though. Power grids will likely be down, but I think only for days in most affected areas.


Does Nature publish anything that isn’t alarmist these day?

Nancy Green

D. Matteson says:
March 22, 2014 at 8:50 am
Put a tax on coronal mass ejections.
Problem solved.
Obama will sign a Presidential Directive that they be made illegal. The EPA is drawing up regulations at this very moment to ban emission from the sun.

coulda, woulda shoulda.

José Tomás

@ talldave2
You are not considering all the consequences.
In towns and cities, we need power to have water. Food comes by trucks, which need petrol, which need pumps, refineries and all matter of facilities which need power (not mentioning that all these are operated by electricity-consuming computers today).
Only three days without power in a big city will lead to water and food shortage. A massive CME may put the power grid off for many many days, and it will need electricity to be put back to work. All assuming that the necessary electric engines necessary to do the repairs will not be melted too. Now, imagine New York City without water for 4-5 days. And without light an night. And food not coming. Cars, trains (including tube) and airplanes stopping when out of fuel. No traffic lights, no way for police force to coordinate (no radio). And so on. What do you think will happen?
No, I do not think this is a no-worry scenario.

I remember once hearing a story of American techs dismantling a captured MIG fighter plane, and laughing that all its electronic gear was a set of incredibly intricate valves, rather than modern transistors and semiconductors.
Then someone pointed out that valves are thousands of times more resistant to electromagnetic pulses from nuclear explosions, which cause similar electrical disturbances, on a smaller scale, to large solar events.
Maybe we shouldn’t chuck that old valve radio after all… 🙂


Well someone, and hopefully someone knowledgeable about electro-magentics “needs” to explain to me what is meant by “magnetic reconnection”. I’ve ‘heard’ of ‘magnetic field lines’, and seen nice drawings of all these lines, sort of like iron filings on paper that many of us did with a magnet in junior high. But do these actually exist as “lines”? And can they sort of ‘fly around’, like streamers in a wind, “breaking connection” and then “reconnecting”? Or is this just another ‘scientific’ fantasy….
Because, (and here we need someone who is a Member of the IEEE to step in, perhaps), to my primitive understanding: – –
You cannot have magnetic fields in absence of some sort of charge or electrical current. Period.
And this has rather large (little play on words, there) implications regards our ‘connections’ (read: – electrical), with the Sun, the Planets (individually and collectively), the Solar System and Heliosphere, and beyond, the Galaxy.
Something about Plasma Physics, as well, I believe.
Right? Not sure how ‘permanently magnetized’ objects, like lodestones, figure into this, but I suspect it’s something to do with a re-orientation of their ‘charge’, etc….
Happy to be corrected in my un-learned assumptions.


Addendum: – Implications for the provenance of our “weather” and “climate”, as well, no?

I take it it’s a slow weekend?
REPLY: Must be, your blog still shows nothing other than the default “hello world” post. – A


Worth remembering what happened to the massive station transformers during the Quebec event – these being as big as three story buildings, taking a year to build, and weeks to transport over our roadways or rails. From what I understand, none ‘in reserve’ – – so “a few days” without power might be somewhat optimistic. I understand from previous threads commentators that much work has been done on our long distance transmission lines to install ‘ground breakers’, and ‘breakers’ on these big transformers, etc. How true that is, and how effective they’d be during an X-20 Flare aimed right at us here on Earth, might be a rather important question to explore, and not just theoretically.
and this vid shows some sobering photos of the damage to said transformers, good animations of the storm itself (1989 Quebec – 6 million without power in 92 seconds)

Rich Lambert

Does anyone know what the field strength of a Carrington like event would be at the earth’s surface?

José Tomás

Thanks, @Tiburon, a most sobering video, as you say.
If I remember well, the Quebec event was something like 1/10 of the strength of the Carrington Event, thus a minor CME event (please someone correct me if I am wrong).
An event with the Carrington strength may knock out the whole Earth’s power grid. Only Indian, African and Chinese peasants (and those others in rural no-electricity places) will be safe, at least until city-dwellers invade their lands in search for food and water.


BZZZZT! and the world goes dark and smells like barbecue.
This leads me to ask:
Just how “freak” are freak accidents? And just how “miss” is a near-miss?

Bill H

Grid balancing transformers the size of three story buildings housed at most major hydroelectric dams would be destroyed if they were hit with a Carrington level event. Only three places the world now build them and they are all out side the US.
How long do you think it would take to replace 5,000 of these? Who would get the first ones? And what about the Drop Down Transformers near your home? How long will you wait for these to be replaced?
IF we get struck by an event like this it will be years before the full grid is back on line. Best have protected equipment and plenty of fuel/ food/etc stored.. Setting us back 150 years in a day would be devastating in all sorts of ways.


TY @ Jose Thomas 🙂
I’ve been following Ben Davidson’s work most of the last year…his youtube subscribers will soon hit the 200,000 mark, and his website has a very large and growing collection of videos, audio and articles, and his blog is great too. He’s at the Electric Universe Conference in Albuquerque NM now, so is posting his daily 3 min News reports a little late each day, but normally they’re up by 6:30 AM. So one would theoretically get a bit of ‘advance notice’ of the unlikely, but definitely possible, Event. [not the x-rays – they’d be here at light speed, or near – but the proton flux, etc – which is where the damage would come].
That said, there was a flare a few years back that reached something like 1/4 of light speed, and was here in just a few hours, rather than the usual 24 -36 hrs. There are a lot of variables, and other things that can stir the pot – – not just CME’s – like example filimentary eruptions.
He’s got things laid out well – but expect a day’s review to start to get a handle on things – there are wonderful advances in imaging and monitoring, satellite and ground based, both for space and earth weather, and he has his finger on most and teaches the 0bservers to ‘do it themselves’.

Ok…so idiot AGW question sequence:
We’re supposedly suffering from an “energy imbalance” in which the Earth is supposedly venting less energy to space than is incoming from the Sun….correct?
And the ONLY thing that can be causing THAT for the past 15+ years since there has been no observed surface or land warming, is that the deep oceans are sucking up that energy and causing a deficit in the outgoing energy. Correct?
BUT magnetic storms regularly dump “EXTRA” energy into our atmosphere, and a LARGER magnetic storm dumped a LOT more energy into our atmosphere in 1989. Correct?
Since the AGW crowd constantly tells us that all the “extra energy” that human C02 is causing in our atmosphere hangs around for decades…even centuries….then what affect does the extra magnetic storm produced energy have? Do their models account for these additions? Have these surges been eliminated as suspects that could cause an energy imbalance?

JamesonLewis3rd says: March 22, 2014 at 11:13 am “Just how “freak” are freak accidents? And just how “miss” is a near-miss?”
Pareto Distribution.
Hydraulic systems of conductive metals are just as susceptible, and worse for a pipe section being a conductor circuit of non-negligible length.

Stephen Richards

So now we could have been disasters instead could be disasters. If you can’t get nature to do as the models predict then invent a disaster in the past that didn’t happen but might have had we not been eating porridge at the time.

Bill H

Even at a near miss of nine days we felt the effects of this blast. The earths magnetosphere was pulled and distorted. Just think what would have happened if we were just one day. Sections of the earth would still have been hit as it rotated. I am not so sure a glancing blow would fare better than a direct hit due to the speed at which it would have struck us.
Who says that God does not have a sense of humor…. Were still here.

John F. Hultquist

Bill H says:
March 22, 2014 at 11:29 am
Best have protected equipment and plenty of fuel/ food/etc stored.

The large equipment you mention (balancing transformers, +) lack the pizzazz of expensively subsidized 150 m. wind towers and fancy electric autos. Don’t expect much progress on this front. Individuals have very little to do with this issue … it is not in their hands.
Also, I’ve noticed a lot of the food storage proponents suggest dry grains and beans, freeze dried meals, cornmeal, and other such things. Without heat and water most of these things are difficult to eat. Rotating canned food is maybe a better idea.
Hope, I guess, is the plan.


@Stephen Richards – – I feel for your frustration, the seemingly endless litany of things to steal away simple joy from our lives. But when talking about the “Killshot”, it IS a serious threat, Stephen, unlike CAGW which is mostly a political artifact. Serious enough to ‘take steps’ – if only steps analogous to changing one’s car tires when they are discovered to be balding – in this case trying to ‘harden’ the Electrical Grid, decentralizing power production, and building transformer ‘backups’. Lots of backups. And grounding them.
Might be the kind of issue, like those below, that could give our world economy a little boost, eh?
Sort of like Krugman’s Alien Invasion musings…with a little more spice of Reality, that is…
Other serious threats, IMHO, are an imminent Solar Grand Minimum (ie Maunder, or Dalton Minimum), (or even, a looming end to the Holocene Climate – ie Ice Age, Redux), and as-yet-unidentified Asteroids or Large Meteors, Earth-directed.
These things, we CAN do something about, unlike Global Temps. At least can do something to ameliorate the potential damages.


To Leif Svalgaard …
Are CME’s measured – frequency and intensity?
Is there any way of measuring their historical values?

3×2 says: March 22, 2014 at 12:42 pm “To Leif Svalgaard Are CME’s measured – frequency and intensity? Is there any way of measuring their historical values?”
Mauna Loa Solar Observatory Mark-III K-Coronameter Coronal Mass Ejection Catalogue


This may be of interest, from 20 March out of the SDO (Solar Dynamics Observatory) — a double flare, which goes a certain distance to confirming that the Sun is NOT a big nuclear furnace, but rather something electrical – like an anode connected to the cathode of the heliosphere, and powered by same (and by galactic electrical energy beyond).
Here’s the article at – – go to Archives on right for 21st March, second article down, good links.
I’ve come to find it … sad…that it appears most mainline astronomers do not have more than “Gravity” in their vocabulary when presenting their theoretical explanations of what we observe, in greater and greater detail, in the universe around us. The electrical force is billions of times more powerful, yet remains the 800 lb gorilla in the room.
Ya. That one. 😉

John F. Hultquist

Aphan at 12:07
I suggest you use the search box on the right side near the top. The questions you ask have been discussed on WUWT. Unless someone has nothing else to do, and it is a nice day to be doing things, there is a wealth of information you can do for your self with minimal searching.
For example, the phrase ‘ co2 residence time ‘ in that search box yeilds lots of posts.

Stephan Fuelling

One reason for the Fukushima disaster to happened was that the Daiichi plant was disconnected from the power grid since a power transformer blew up. So they had to rely on battery and diesel backup generators, which eventually failed due to the tsunami. What would you expect will happen to the nuclear power plants around the world when they are suddenly disconnected from the grid due to a Carrington-size event? Will they be able to generate their own electrical power to cool the reactors and cooling ponds? And if not, how long will their batteries and diesel generators last? I have not researched this, does anybody know? This could present a very dangerous scenario. The same dangerous situation would occur in the event of a meteor strike, or super volcano explosion. We need nuclear power plants that are designed to power themselves down safely in the event of failure, like molten salt cooled thorium nuclear power plants. We have to replace the old, inherently unstable uranium power plants as soon as possible.

If you want a “precautionary principle” we would be vastly better served having spare transformers for WHEN a Carrington event next strikes than the insane CO2 mitigation measures proposed by the United Nazis. It could be regarded as a good investment- 10 million dollars or so tied up in the transformer would save at least a billion a day in economic loss and mayhem when the SHTF. Rough guess is a Carrington event every 380 years Equivalent “return” in monetary terms is about 30% to say nothing of the social cohesion benefit. Could you imagine the bidding frenzy for YOUR transformer if governments knew it would take a good year to get a transformer? 10 billion would be an absolute bargain! Maybe the “like a thief in the night” collapse in Book of Revelation describes a Carrington event? 7 years is about the time it would take to fully re-establish power and there would be unspeakable turmoil in the interim.
NASA research would be better spent calculating the number of large CMEs per year and the size at earth’s orbit to establish a probability than plugging the CO2/ cAGW propaganda. It strikes me that this is information they have which will make for a very simple calculation. Although much of the damage to power infrastructure from a CME could be averted with a quick disconnection of electricity supply, my faith in humanity is low-I do not trust suppliers or governments to get it right.
Any readers have the information of CMEs per year and area covered at earth’s orbit with the damaging radiation levels? The Carrington event went over 2 days , which suggests that area is quite large.


Bill Illis says:
March 22, 2014 at 8:37 am
“Shouldn’t there be new standards for electronic equipment to ensure they are hardened against solar storm damage.”
Almost all electronic equipment has this protection built in, and called surge protection. Some is better than others depending on the type of protection (Thyristor, MOV, Transient diode, Gas Tube, etc). The better protection uses a combination of several of the types working together.
My entire live was spent in consumer electronics (retired now). The only better way to protect equipment is to turn them off and remove power and all other input/output lines. Perhaps in the future a better of protection will be available, but currently it does not exist.

Gary Pearse

Now let’s get scared of the sun doing what it has done for billions of years. Yeah, it may knock down some communications, etc. etc. If its such a horror show, then lets build defenses against potential damage. I had my computer knocked out by a direct hit on my home even though I had the right gear, etc. I think if I had unplugged everything earlier it would have been okay. So detect the event – don’t we get to see it coming? and interrupt our electronics until it has passed. Heck, a big ice storm shut of millions of peoples power for up to a week or so and few died that I heard of.

Stephan Fuelling says: March 22, 2014 at 1:49 pm “We need nuclear power plants … like molten salt cooled thorium nuclear power plants.”
There is no such thing extant.


José Tomás
Let’s not overstate it, back in the telegraph days the infrastructure was all overhead, now, particularly in cities like New York, it’s underground. Electricity networks now have mechanisms to discharge overvoltages from lightning, and you think the much lower intensity magnetic interference is going to overwhelm defences that can deal with lightning bolts?
We are not in the 1800s anymore, our electronixs on the whole are very EMI resistant. That’s not to say that things attached to antennae might not suffer… So Samsung might sell some more TVs and radios for a while.

“– we have to stop this craziness!” – Al Gore
Finally something from Al Gore that I can agree with! Just stop it Al, and go away; stop bugging us all.

Rich Lambert

A lot of mobile equipment is tested to perform properly in a field of 30 volts/meter and some to higher levels.


Tiburon says:
March 22, 2014 at 12:58 pm
“I’ve come to find it … sad…that it appears most mainline astronomers do not have more than “Gravity” in their vocabulary when presenting their theoretical explanations of what we observe, in greater and greater detail, in the universe around us. The electrical force is billions of times more powerful, yet remains the 800 lb gorilla in the room.”
You might be interested in my new pet theory regarding Dark Matter or the absence of it. There is some work on accretion disks, which can only collapse into a center if angular momentum is transferred from inner to outer parts. This transfer can be explained with the MRI, the magnetorotational instability.
Now, somebody has also explained the rotational stability of young galaxies with the MRI, meaning, turbulences created by the galactic magnetic field provide this transfer of angular momentum. As electromagnetic phenomena are scale invariant, we might soon get the baffling declaration that all galaxies are simply large accretion disks suffering from an MRI, and that would make Dark Matter vanish; and introduce magnetism on a galactic scale into the picture.