The New York Times today published an op-ed outlining the serious dangers we face should the Sun unleash a solar flare or coronal mass ejection of sufficient power to knock out our electrical grids. After describing the horrors of Hurricane Katrina, the author then says
We are similarly unready for another potential natural disaster: solar storms, bursts of gas on the sun’s surface that release tremendous energy pulses.
Now this might be interesting, had it been published in 1988. At that time, the electrical grids used in the U.S. and Canada were very much unprepared for a sudden solar storm. Moreover, the Sun at that time was ramping up towards a particularly active solar maximum. The result: On March 13, 1989, the power grid that supplied electricity to Quebec and 200 utility companies in the U.S. came crashing down, overloaded by a power surge caused by a burst of energy sent hurtling towards the Earth, by the Sun.
However, to report this threat today as if it was news is somewhat laughable. Since the 1990 solar maximum, the world’s electrical systems have been very much aware of the problem and have instituted numerous safeguards should the Sun burp at them again. It was for this reason that there were few problems during the next solar maximum in 2001, even though it was almost as powerful as the maximum in 1990.
The real news story concerning the Sun is how inactive it has been, for reasons scientists do not understand. Not only was the recently concluded solar minimum the longest and deepest in almost a hundred years, the subsequent solar activity leading to the next solar maximum has been far weaker than every prediction. At the moment, the Sun appears headed for the weakest solar maximum in two hundred years. And when that last happened, the Earth experienced a period of significantly cold weather, also for reasons that scientist do not yet understand.
It is this story that journalists should be covering.
From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him. The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today. He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future. Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.