Space storm may destroy all technology

2011-02-20 18:53

Washington - A geomagnetic space storm sparked by a solar eruption like the one that flared toward Earth on Tuesday is bound to strike again and could wreak havoc across the gadget-happy modern world, experts say.

Contemporary society is increasingly vulnerable to space weather because of our dependence on satellite systems for synchronising computers, navigational systems, telecommunications networks and other electronic devices.

A potent solar storm could disrupt these technologies, scorch satellites, crash stock markets and cause power outages that last weeks or months, experts said on Saturday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting.

The situation will only get more dire because the solar cycle is heading into a period of more intense activity in the coming 11 years.

"This is not a matter of if, it is simply a matter of when and how big," said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator Jane Lubchenco.

"The last time we had a maximum in the solar cycle, about 10 years ago, the world was a very different place. Cellphones are now ubiquitous; they were certainly around (before) but we didn't rely on them for so many different things," she said.

"Many things that we take for granted today are so much more prone to the process of space weather than was the case in the last solar maximum."

'Don't panic'

The experts admitted that currently, little can be done to predict such a storm, much less shield the world's electrical grid by doing anything other than shutting off power to some of the vulnerable areas until the danger passes.

"Please don't panic," said Stephan Lechner, director of the European Commission Joint Research Centre, drawing laughter from the scientists and journalists in the audience. "Over-reaction will make the situation worse."

The root of the world's vulnerability in the modern age is global positioning systems, or GPS devices, that provide navigational help but also serve as time synchronisers for computer networks and electronic equipment, he said.

"GPS helped and created a new dependency," said Lechner, noting that the technology's influence extends to aerospace and defence, digital broadcast, financial services and government agencies.

In Europe alone, there are 200 separate telecommunication operators, and "nothing is standardised," he said.

"We are far from understanding all the implications here," he said.

No prediction

World governments are hurrying to work on strategies for co-operation and information sharing ahead of the next anticipated storm, though forecasters admit they are not sure when that may occur.

"Actually we cannot tell if there is going to be a big storm six months from now, but we can tell when conditions are ripe for a storm to take place," said the European Space Agency's Juha-Pekka Luntama.

On Tuesday at 01:56 GMT, a huge solar eruption, the strongest in about five years, sent a torrent of charged plasma particles hurtling toward the Earth at a speed of 900km per second.

The force of the Class X flash, the most powerful of all solar events, lit up auroras and disrupted some radio communications, but the effects were largely confined to the northern latitudes.

"Actually it turned out that we were well protected this time. The magnetic fields were aligned parallel, so not much happened," said Luntama.

"In another case things might have been different."

  • LoveJesus - 2011-02-20 19:19

    Yes, so we must enjoy our old cars, which does not have computers onboard, avoid to fly, enjoy the internet as long as we can and so on and so on!

      Hans-Erik Iken - 2011-02-20 20:23

      Actually the cars will have no problems. The metal bodywork will shield the electronics as a Faraday cage. If you have a sports car made largely from composite material then you might have a problem though :-)

      Picasso - 2011-02-21 07:32

      Hans, I think he is refering to the onboard computers. Like on my Jeep Cherokee the compass etc runs from satelite, and BMW's and Mercedes's is much more dependant from satelites. Somebody that is going to have a huge problem is the USA, their entire army, fleet and air force are run by satelites. Especially their reconnaissance, anti-missile and long range missile technology. If I were Iran or Alquada I'd strike during the storms.

      Robbie - 2011-02-23 09:34

      Hans... this is powerful enough to pass through any metal shielding...

      trishen.moodley - 2011-02-23 12:23

      If only people believed in the first 4 words of the bible..."In the beginning GOD"!

      Felix - 2011-02-23 12:44

      trishen.moodley how exactly would that help?

      sandesh.ramnath - 2011-02-23 14:12

      I think it's already affected BMW's as their indicators seem to have been affected by the magnetic field !

      Bloodbane - 2011-02-23 15:30

      @trishen.moodley please tell me how that helps??? also did the begining come first of did god? since begining implies there was nothing there before.... then I have to aks which bible and which translation??

      hackerxca - 2011-02-23 17:52

      @Robbie @Picasso, how the hell will this be powerful enough to go through metal shielding? It is going to effect the satellites not our cars, the earths atmosphere will dissapitated a majority of it, and then the metal casing will absorb the rest.... This is not a movie, get serious. Damn, sure it's going to affect or GPS and Telecommunications, because they are satellites, but to think your equipment such as your car will be effected is just ignorant.

  • LoveJesus - 2011-02-20 19:32

    What happened to my comment on the old cars, without computers and the aeroplanes that will be falling, like the birds, from the sky?

      kevinpmason - 2011-02-21 11:47

      hmm, why exactly will planes fall from the sky? their onboard electronics are heavily shielded. The major problem is the loss of their positioning satellites, but you don't get a pilots license (except possibly SAA pilots :P ) without knowing a fair bit about navigation, so the maps, and computer versions thereof will still enable most pilots to reach their destinations.

      AJ - 2011-02-23 04:59

      @LJ - it's above this one.

      LoveJesus - 2011-02-23 05:53

      If you have a good look on these stroms on the actual NASA sights, you will see that all computer chips will be fried! They make it seem like we should not worry, but the truth is, we should worry a lot! How long have we had all this tecnology and how many solar stroms was there up to now to worry about? Only the GPS systems?? Planes are well protected agains lightening yes, but a Solar Strom?

      Sailor - 2011-02-23 08:18

      LJ - buy yourself lots of baked beans and tinned food and dig in.

      The Patriot - 2011-02-23 10:04

      @ Kevin, All these newfangled stealth planes cant fly without their on board computers. They definitely will fall out the sky. Then again, it wont effect us cause we dont have any military pilots or the budget to have any Grippons in the air. As for GPS, they change the names of our towns and streets so regularly I'm always lost and Garmin has no cooking clue where I need to go.

      kevinmet - 2011-02-23 10:23

      Great advice sailor.. Then LJ won't have to worry about looking at the 'stroms on the actual NASA sights'. Hilarious

      squeegeepilot - 2011-02-23 15:15

      Sailor - lots of people still trying to eat their way through the stocks of beaked beans and bully beef they stored in 1994 before the elections...

  • LoveJesus - 2011-02-20 19:48

    Stop doing that!

      meesterbrein - 2011-02-20 20:34

      Don't worry LJ,mothership is on it's way!

      Grazy - 2011-02-20 20:59

      Hie hie, I think I know what got LJ in a spin.:-) That little wheely thingy kept on spinning under my posting also, but if you wait long enough, or just press the return button, it does go trough.....sometimes. :-)

      LoveJesus - 2011-02-23 05:56

      Sorry guys, I kept on posting my comments and they kept on disapearing? Well they are back and the readers are puzzeled!

      Vasthi - 2011-02-23 15:09

      It's already happening LoveJesus...

  • lmduplessis - 2011-02-20 20:01

    ... LJ, get help. Now, if this article had been about "Space Storm may destroy all Stupidity" I would have been exited.

      craigkaos - 2011-02-20 20:21

      Won't be many of us left then. But that's cool with me; at least won't have trouble finding parking for my old car at the airport after all the planes have fallen rom the skies...

      Picasso - 2011-02-21 07:42

      OK, why would you want to park at the airport if all the planes have fallen from the skies?

      Aristar - 2011-02-21 08:09

      Exited? Probably. Excited? Maybe. Stupidity would never be eradicated as all that is required for a functioning being is to produce, ergo they will breed and breed until they outnumber the supposedly intelligent beings. Remember that it takes two idiots to outvote a genius!!!

      schmerz - 2011-02-23 10:45

      @Aristar and that is exactly why democracy will never work

  • corro51 - 2011-02-20 20:02

    This theory will spawn some money making racket ala Y2K. Another crock.

      LUFC - 2011-02-23 02:08


      pointblankza - 2011-02-23 09:53

      Just like religion!

  • k1dbl4ck - 2011-02-20 21:12

    personally i cannot wait to return to the stone age.

      Felix - 2011-02-23 12:49

      Aren't you in Africa? Come visit 'Stone Age' we been havin it ;0

      squeegeepilot - 2011-02-23 15:18

      When did you leave it?

  • golanc2 - 2011-02-20 21:57

    its 2012 again

  • Cam99 - 2011-02-21 01:55

    Y2K was not a crock. It was averted because the problem was fixed. I am a programmer who literally fixed quite a few programs that would have failed catastrophically. Funny how people who know nothing about an issue or how it was prevented feel qualified to decalre something a 'crock'. I think we could maybe learn something about this while interpreting and planning for future disasters. Listen to the experts and don't comment when you are ignorant!

      Mr D - 2011-02-21 04:45

      Go suck a lolipop....programmmmmmer my assssss

      Picasso - 2011-02-21 07:40

      Cam99, the only programmes that did had problems with Y2K were due to bad programming in the first place. A friend of mine is a programmer for a large corporate company for a very long time and they took precausions in the late 80's and early 90's already. Who knows, maybe some companies did bad programming in the first place with extra profits in mind for 2000.

      IBI - 2011-02-23 01:07

      Y2K was a big mountain made fro a small mole hill. Nobody had to take avertive action! I recommended to the big organisation to do NOTHING, and NOTHING happened. Millions were spent on aq fiction.

      rugdusty - 2011-02-23 10:27

      There were some systems that would have failed but they had been designed with that in mind ... A lot of people made a lot of money off something that could have been designed out in the first place . There are many other instances where this happens ...but it is difficult to prove from the layman's point of view . I am always amazed when the warranties on some vehicles run out , the clutch , on board computer etc all go bang .

      DT - 2011-02-23 11:24

      Which programs were these? I'm really interested to hear this one. I made a fair whack during that whole Y2K thing because people were bringing in keyboards and monitors to check if they were compliant. I charged them for the Y2k compliant stickers. Y2K was nothing more than an effort to get everyone up to the same level. Fear is a wonderful motivator. The majority of our sites still run on a 386... Linux and dos. They've been running for 30 years now. Stable as a rock and the features are no worse than the current systems, in fact the only thing different is more network protocols. More inter-operability so can intergrate the old machines into our windows networks, we don't need to replace the old machines, we just bolt on and expand the network.

      gbrits2009 - 2011-02-23 14:23

      Y2K my ass .. I was part of the big roll over, Y2K compliant BIOS boards the whole thing ...... and nothing happened ...

      Henry - 2011-02-23 14:56

      Stupid idiots. Don't comment on stuff you know squat of. Nothing happened then becuase we did our jobs, fixing programs that were 30 years old that was initialy written in the seventies and sixies by people believing their stuff will only be used for 10 to 15 years.

      Mayan_Death - 2011-02-24 08:59

      @DT: How could your 386/linux sites have been around for 30 years? Neither the processor nor the kernel were around 30 years ago.

  • watyasay - 2011-02-21 10:44

    excuse to excessively download porn

      brentjh - 2011-02-21 13:37

      LOL, sounds like a plan!

  • Dan - 2011-02-21 11:34

    "intense activity in the coming 11 years"??? The solar cycle from minimum to maximum and back to minimum spans an average time period of 11 years. I think it would be best for the media not to report on technical matters at all. There is just no place for their "scare tactics" in an objective and unbiased world.

      Derrick - 2011-02-21 13:59

      As far as I know we at the peek of solar storms, during the next 10 years it's going to be calming down, as far as the experts are concerned

      Carmaine Harrison - 2011-02-23 11:08

      "peak of solar storms".... sorry! I can't help myself ;-)

      DT - 2011-02-23 12:03

      Last year I was following articles on how our sun was dying out... then it suddenly became more active than it's ever been. We've only been tracking the sun for a short time in our history and now we have experts on what it's going to do in 10 years time. The problem exists between service provider and client. My iburst signal rates in as fair and I get better connectivity with that than my cell phone. Watch this space. Price increase to upgrade the networks with some new technology that will prevent damaging effects of the sun.

      drowninja - 2011-02-23 15:16

      Nice one @DT, The fact that we never studied them much does not mean they have never always been there!!! Another Y2K case is still comming, not a programmer's fault, after year 9999, don't know what will they call it though. and another and another similar case. it was simply our way of thinking but i know some would have made cash from it, like the Y@K keyboard stickers. lmao- well not to say at the time i would not have done that lol. Y@k compliant PCs. They way is was said was like there is a chip that handles that. It was only siple variable change in the software and a simple update SQL query in the database. Someone failed to sell us and were caught out trying with the green tech scam, not to mention that there planetary weather had an ice age prior and its opposite, like a long term cycle. lol. Now they bring up another one. i gues it will be soler storm complient tech. lol.

      Bloodbane - 2011-02-23 15:33

      @Derrick, we are actually coming out of the low and are only now starting with the high solar activities

      nobodyneedstoknowme - 2011-02-23 15:46

      Ummmmmmmm..... we have no idea what the weather is going to do 10 days from now on our own planet... yet we are able to determine with certainty what will happen on a giant ball of plasma millions of km's away that we can only recently see properly? Come on.

      exocist - 2011-02-23 21:55

      ladies and gentlemen we are in the presence of pure genius it's dan, derrick, dt, drownninja and bloodbane recently back from their exploration of the galaxies in the spaceship enterprise dudes stop smoking so much ganja you guys must stop being so toit the sun is farjer than you think

  • Dan - 2011-02-21 14:20

    "intense activity in the coming 11 years"??? The solar cycle from minimum to maximum and back to minimum spans an average time period of 11 years. I think it would be best for the media not to report on technical matters at all. There is just no place for their "scare tactics" in an objective and unbiased world.

  • Fill - 2011-02-22 08:32

    All technology? How is this going to effect my shovels and plows?

      Pharo - 2011-02-23 18:09


  • AJ - 2011-02-23 04:58

    Alarmist much?

  • VidoPro - 2011-02-23 06:00

    Blame it on global warming.

  • steven - 2011-02-23 08:21

    yay, maybe a focused burst can fry africa and all the cattle that inhabit.

  • Seperetla - 2011-02-23 08:37

    Thank God. I read all comments and there was nothing about race, poor governance, apartheid, JZ and JM. I am proud South Africans, shows we are getting somewhere....Unless of course we are quiet because we don't understand this space science crap which is well...very regrettable!

      Carmaine Harrison - 2011-02-23 11:12

      ..until you had to spoil it....

      wsk747 - 2011-02-23 14:21

      Hah! It's all because the Gays are getting married!

      Bloodbane - 2011-02-23 15:34

      just wait till something goes wrong, then kolobe and poloy and half wise will be blaming aparthiet

      tfbornman - 2011-02-23 16:02

      Malema propably would say such things don't exist

      Pharo - 2011-02-23 18:11

      They don't exist in the Pedi dictionary

  • Bonzo - 2011-02-23 08:40

    Eish! What if it all flows down my forked stick while I carries de letters? Dis lightning bird what zap me from de clouds.

  • Rod - 2011-02-23 08:46

    Its my sperm I'm worried about

      squeegeepilot - 2011-02-23 15:23

      Perhaps mankind will win after all - you will not be able to breed! Winner!

  • Rod - 2011-02-23 08:46

    They are sensitive little guys

  • CPII - 2011-02-23 09:02

    K@k. Everybody had cellphones ten years ago and zip happened!

  • CPII - 2011-02-23 09:26

    ....and also, GPS navigators are for women. REAL men don't get lost. We'll get there in our own time ;)

      pointblankza - 2011-02-23 09:56

      That's what I keep telling the wife!

      CPII - 2011-02-23 10:24

      He he he....and how many times have you slept outside with the dog. I don't tell her, just ignore and show her ;)

      MACKAROONEY - 2011-02-23 16:23

      yes,i agree.....

  • Maryna123 - 2011-02-23 09:53

    Why are you all worrying, commenting and insulting each other about something that might happen? The last I heard was that the world is going kapoof within a year's time... However, I personnally would like to go back to the stone age, don't think there will then be so much shite happening.

      Pharo - 2011-02-23 18:13

      First insult came from you. We are all having a jolly good time!

  • pawsaw - 2011-02-23 10:14

    So what if GPS and technology is fried! Roads and infrastructure will still be there to get us from A to B. It might actually be a good thing as all those people who grew up using calculators and computers will actually have to use their brains to figure things out and industries which are currently mechanised or run by technology will need real people to do what is cutrrently being done by machines and robots thus diminishing unemployment. No more medical marvels like IVF and heart transplants unless people are involved in keeping systems going. Sounds like a good thing to me.

  • rugdusty - 2011-02-23 10:21

    Another Y2K? Watch all the companies popping up around the world claiming to offer protection from this event ... will be fun to watch .

  • edipretty - 2011-02-23 11:14

    Useless article...why give us all these facts and not predict anything? Why write a long article and end it off with "we will get back to you"...waste of space. But anyways, the Bible does say that everything as we know it will pass away, but God Almighty remains forever. Because we began with Him and we will end with Him. Are you saved? South Africa, its time to turn to God. The bible says that whoever believes in His heart that Jesus is the Son of God and confesses that God raised him from the dead will be saved. Pray today and declare your faith in Jesus, its not enough to just believe it with your heart, to e saved you have to say it to God that you believe. Your life will never be the same again:-)

      Zebedi - 2011-02-23 15:04

      @edipretty - just as you would like to convert us all to christianity, I would like to convert you to Atheism. I don't stand a chance, and neither do you. Do you really need to use a public forum like news 24 to preach your beliefs? Keep your religious dogma to yourself please, and if you don't like reading science related articles, read something else instead of badmouthing the author.

      Bloodbane - 2011-02-23 15:36

      the reason for the article is so that when things do go wrong they can say they warned us... idiots like you will still blame them and say you where never told.....

      IAmTheDarkPrince - 2011-02-23 17:09

      "I contend we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours." - Stephen F. Roberts

      Pharo - 2011-02-23 18:16

      If you promise to keep quiet and go and read your Bible, I shall promise to go and read my preffered Fiction too.

  • overmeulen - 2011-02-23 11:22

    "World governments are working on the problem" whilst our dearest South African government will reply that "there is no crisis" and be looking for friends and family to appoint a commission of enquiery.

  • ProfAndy - 2011-02-23 11:47

    Hmm, ignorance is bliss and paranoia is a real scream!! ;) The likliehood is that circuitry will be disrupted and perhaps irrevocable 'fried' during such an event (especially CMOS). Modern cars will not be shielded sufficiently but even then, when the storm passes, if the electronics are not damaged and can be reset then they should fine again. The same applies to computers, TVs, cells, GPS's, etc... If you want to test your device, build an electromagnetic pulse generator and put your device close to it! ;) The root of the problem is induced currents in circuitry that are extremely sensitive to larger than designed flow of charge... Sometimes that induced flow damages the circuitry, sometimes it doesn't. Most times the circuitry will continue to work once the embedded logic is reset from it's 'floating' state.

  • jesse - 2011-02-23 12:50

    One should be concerned if there is an increase in the neutrino flux from the sun. The class x flash will be a flash in the pan should neutrino flux increase dramatically. It is a forerunner of a more devastating cosmic disaster. It points to a nuclear built-up in the sun with a resulting extreme ultraviolet emmission. All life on earth will perish. Google neutrino flux for more info.

      PikeLee - 2011-02-23 13:35

      I grandfathers beer farts would be more destructive...

  • PikeLee - 2011-02-23 13:32

    these guys made a big noise about the w2k bug as well. It will come and go, like the rest of the "space storms" and no one will even notice.

      jesse - 2011-02-23 13:57

      Yes Pike, no one will notice. Everything will be fried to a crisp.

      PikeLee - 2011-02-23 14:03

      yes Jesse, the world is coming to an end. I hear if you wear tin foil on your head you should be fine though

      Bloodbane - 2011-02-23 15:39

      y2k came and went with no hitch becuase we where warned and because alot of people did a lot of work making sure nothing happend.... i really wish they had not wanred anyone about y2k then people would not be saying ti was a waste of time... people would have seen the affects.... these solar storms affect us alot, and if you work in the IT field, especially with internet you'll see their effects... problem is explaining to idiots that solar flare exist and create hassles on earth...

  • Imajoo - 2011-02-23 14:01

    Old news.....

      jesse - 2011-02-23 14:13

      Kevin & Imajoo, I am not talking about gradual global warming. This ultraviolet emmission can be sudden and severe. As the sun's ultraviolet rays reach the earth, there will be no time to duck or make preparations. Things like this can happen and very quick and might last longer than anyone will anticipate. Say, for instance the earth's temperature rises to 80degrees C and last for generations, what will you do?

      tfbornman - 2011-02-23 16:22

      Go swim in the ocean

      C_Max - 2011-02-23 17:14

      Normal protocol dictates that you lie down and die.

      teuns.vanree - 2012-01-24 21:45

      Dear jesse, it's come and gone... noticed anything?

  • Ares - 2011-02-23 14:04

    Ask the Scientologists... it must be Xeno coming after them !! LOL !!!

  • Tightfist - 2011-02-23 14:41

    Ag please, the Almighty National Circus Yelling Lot have this sun thing under control and will fix it while standing under the shower. The rest of the world can sleep easy.

  • Cire - 2011-02-23 15:07

    Does this mean that the end-of-the-world due for 2012 is being brought forward due to overwhelming public demand?

      Bloodbane - 2011-02-23 15:40

      no but 2012 there are expected to be alot of these solor storms caused by very large solar flares.... so 2012 is still looking good....

  • Mundu - 2011-02-23 15:46

    I don't care, the world has gone mad and needs to end.

  • v3 - 2011-02-23 16:48

    Eskom and Vodacom with their load- and call-shedding have got SA prepared. In Jhb we also know how to drive when the robots are down and the Billing Crisis-What-Crises will be sorted out.

  • trina.opperman - 2011-02-23 17:06

    Go google / youtube search for "HAARP" ... at least when they use their little project for various applications, we will all blame the sun. Enough said ...

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