ON March 23, 2009, New Scientist published a story by Michael Brooks which painted a doomsday scenario. The year for the feared cataclysm was mentioned as 2012 and the month, September.
The story began on a dramatic note: “It is midnight on 22 September 2012 and the skies above Manhattan are filled with a flickering curtain of colorful light. Few New Yorkers have seen the aurora this far south but their fascination is short-lived. Within a few seconds, electric bulbs dim and flicker, then become unusually bright for a fleeting moment. Then all the lights in the state go out. Within 90 seconds, the entire eastern half of the US is without power.
“A year later and millions of Americans are dead and the nation’s infrastructure lies in tatters. The World Bank declares America a developing nation. Europe, Scandinavia, China and Japan are also struggling to recover from the same fateful event - a violent storm, 150 million kilometers away on the surface of the sun.”
Brooks had no crystal ball to see the future, but his argument was based on scientific facts.
In January, 2009, a NASA-funded study by the National Academy of Sciences entitled “Severe Space Weather Events—Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts” started with a supposedly frivolous question: “Did you know a solar flare can make your toilet stop working?”
But the question like Brooks sci-fi New Scientist report had a strong scientific and historical base.
Strong solar winds are capable of disrupting our daily lives to the point of making us pine for a drop of water.
In May 1921, a solar storm hit parts of the planet Earth, resulting in a total failure of the New York Central Railroad switching system, a fire in the control tower at 57th Street and Park Avenue, a blaze in a telephone station in Sweden, and disruptions in telephone, telegraph and cable traffic over most of Europe.
In 1989, geomagnetic storms affected the electric grid in Quebec resulting in a power outage for nine hours.
Similar storms had hit Earth in the past, with the first such recorded event taking place in 1859.
According to scientists, the polarity of the sun reverses itself every 11.1 years. The last time it happened was in 2001. So the next polar shift is expected to be this year. Solar storms occur after the solar polar shift. And earlier this month, strong solar winds did hit our planet. Scientists described it as a minor event, and assured people that they had notified power grid operators, airlines and other important agencies.
But scientists have also discovered two big holes in the magnetosphere, which is caused by Earth’s magnetic field. These holes mean a bigger impact of solar winds on the planet.
And the impact of geomagnetic solar storms is visible now, at least in India.
Grids supplying electricity to half of India’s 1.2 billion people collapsed Tuesday, trapping coal miners, stranding train travelers and plunging hospitals into darkness in the second major blackout in as many days, reported Reuters.
There was chaos on the roads as traffic signals did not work, ATMs were down as was the banking system, and metros in New Delhi came to a halt and long-distance trains were stuck on the tracks.
Water pumps were not functioning and the stored water is expected to run out soon.
We are witnessing today what Brooks described in 2009. Now the frivolous question about solar storms making the toilets stop working seems pertinent. If the power outage in India continues, God forbid, for a few more days then toilets will stop working!
So how do geomagnetic storms affect power grids?
Solar storms pack a flurry of charged particles which create extra electrical currents in Earth’s magnetosphere. These currents penetrate high-voltage transmission lines, causing power grids to heat up and burn. In layman’s language, geomagnetic storms melt the copper windings of transformers. High-voltage power lines spread the current to other grids and the cascading effect takes place.
What scientists are reporting today and we are witnessing in our lifetime, has already been foretold by Allah Almighty in the Holy Qur’an.
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