2/20/11

Catastrophe Looming?


Recently I finished a bunch of research on solar flare activity for a story I'm writing. Interestingly enough, on Monday the sun let loose its most powerful eruption in more than four years disrupting radio communications and generating concern around the world. But it could have been a lot worse, experts say.

Despite its strength, Monday's solar storm was a baby compared to several previous blasts, and it provides just a hint of what the sun is capable of. A true monster storm has the potential to wreak havoc on a global scale, knocking out communications systems, endangering satellites and astronauts and causing perhaps trillions of dollars in damages.

The sun's activity cycle is ramping up, so more storms will likely be coming our way over the next few years. That's not to say the big one is imminent, experts say — but you never can tell. And analysts warn that humanity is more dependent than ever on the high-tech equipment that can be affected by a solar storm, the stakes are higher than in the past.
Wow! That's what I said upon hearing this news. When I contemplated this story, I asked the question 'what if' the sun went crazy and caused real potential danger for an earth-like planet? My SF story is close, too close to reality.

According to my research, solar storm events come in several different flavors.

Solar flares are intense bursts of radiation that send waves of photons streaming toward Earth. The scale measuring their strength has three general categories – Class C, Class M and Class X – with Class X flares being the most powerful. Monday's Valentine's Day solar flare registered a Class X2.2 on that scale.

Other storms, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), are large clouds of plasma and magnetic field that erupt from the sun's surface, sending lots of particles our way. Both flares and CMEs have the same root cause — a disruption of the magnetic field in the sun's outer atmosphere. And both events can affect life here on Earth.

The most severe damage comes from the powerful CMEs. Particles from these outbursts take longer to reach us — up to three days. But when they get here, their interaction with Earth's magnetic field can cause massive "geomagnetic storms," which have the potential to wreak long-lasting havoc around the globe. Monday night's storm produced both a big solar flare and CMEs.

~Oh boy~
It's hard not to be excited and a little weird too, because my story has a lot of this same kind of looming catastrophe. Of course my stories are all about the romance, and this one is no different. Sub plots are also as important in SFR as the romance.

In the light of what occurred on Monday, I would like to share an unedited excerpt from my latest story. Most of the action takes place on an orbiting Space Station just below the Planet's exosphere. The Astroscientists on Starlab who are actually searching for life on other planets, have just discovered what could spell disaster for their world. 


Karla stood in the tight-nit area of Starlab’s main research hub and peered over Frank’s shoulder, viewing the monitors as Jay stood next to her.

Frank cleared his throat then spoke. “During my watch last night, I raised the remote UV filters on scope two and aimed it directly at our sun.” He paused and looked up at Karla. There is no doubt our sun's solar flare and CME activity is increasing at a much too rapid rate. Last night's event eruption registered a massive Class X9.6, with more data coming in as we speak. Our planet is in peril. If CME continue to bombard us at this high rate, well, I don’t have to tell you where we are headed.”

* * * *
From his shielded high orbiting spacecraft above the planet, he observed the humans on their space station as they bristled about in fear. Their own sun was about to destroy their world…

Kaye

Photos from Monday's actual sun flare activity available from Space.com

18 comments:

Lin said...

I am a universe buff. When I was in college and had to take two science coure to complete the liberal arts portion of my undergrad degree I chose geology and The Universe. Since then I will watch every program that deal with our solar system and all the way to the Big Bang theory.

I loved your pictures. A great deal of people think of the sun as this perfectly symmetrical orb that rises in the east and sets in the west. Thank you for showing us all that it dances, it churns and it spews pieces of its chemistry out at alarming rates.

Eventually it will use is fused energy up, but until then, the sun is not a docile star that only causes sunburns.

Your series sounds fantastic. I really wish you well with it.

Lin said...

And as an aside, I took oceanus as an elective...WOW, we have little idea what is happening deep in our oceans and until we create submersible that can better stand up against the pressures, we never will. I am fascinated by the creatures down there that bioluminesce...sort of like lightning bugs but to the Nth degree. TMI? Sorry Kay.

Kaye Manro said...

Thanks for your wonderful insights, Lin! You are a wellspring of information even without the research!

Kat said...

Well, we all will die of something. At least a solar burst would be quick. LOL. But I loved the view from the images released. Mother nature may be violent, but her violence has an astonishing beauty as well. I love to sit inside during lightning storms and watch the bright flashes. Terrifying to be out in but beautiful to watch.

Beckiann said...
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Shelley Munro said...

Wow. I didn't realize there were this many flares or that they affected us so much. I enjoyed the excerpt, Kaye. It sounds as if they have a bumpy road ahead of them.

mike arsuaga said...

CMEs are fun aren't they? We knew practically nothing about them until around 1960. The big threat, as I understand it, is one could strip away the Earth's electromagnetic field. Your story appears well researched and reads very well' Good luck with it.

Linda Banche said...

Don't forget, solar flares also cause increased auroral activity. We in the US only see auroras during magnetic storms when the increased activity causes larger auroras that we can see farther south.

Abigail-Madison Chase said...

WOW the is very interesting....your series sounds extremly interesting....

Debs Carr said...

Great pictures. I know so little about the sun and nothing about these eruptions.

Love the excerpt, it sounds as if your characters are going to have a lot going on around them.

Kaye Manro said...

Hi Kat-- it should be quick!

Shelley-- I'm glad you enjoyed the excerpt. I didn't know much about Solar activity until I started research for this story either.

Hi Mike-- thanks for stopping by and sharing your expert info on CMEs!

Kaye Manro said...

Hi Linda-- you are so right-- I didn't touch on that in my post, but it is true. Solar storms can create some beautiful sky shows. I understand the bigger the storm the more intense the auroras will be. Our own magnetic field makes the colors brilliant.

Hi Abagail! It's really nice to meet you. And thanks for saying that. I hope you enjoy the Forbidden series!

Hi Debs-- yes those are some great pictures. And I have put my characters in some real danger for sure. Thanks!

Joyce Henderson said...

Interesting research here, Kaye. Certainly gives your fiction another level to plumb. Best...

Kaye Manro said...

Hi joyce~ and yes you are so right-- it gives a level to my stories so I can have a plot, lol.

Obe said...

I am going to date myself. I can remember huge solar flares in the 60's. TV, in its infancy, was disrupted. Our transistor radios carried static and we got to see the Northern Lights. I can still to this day recall the shimmers and being wrapped in blankets to watch. These were also the years that the east coast had some of its worst Hurricanes... So stay tuned perhaps our world is trying to right itself.
Loved the post and excerpt, Kaye its good to see you posting again.
Nan.

Kaye Manro said...

Hi Nancy-- nice to see you as well. Thanks for your sage insights into a real experience with solar flares and Northern Nights!

Laurie A. Green said...

It's fascinating to research all the things the universe can throw our way, isn't it?

Solar flares concern me for all the reasons you pointed out, but also because I realize a bad episode could essentially knock out the internet and our electronics. And where do most writers store their novels? My peers think I'm silly for doing periodic print-outs of my WIPS, but one monster flare could possibly destroy a decade of work. I think it's worth a few reams of paper and the time it takes to print a hard copy. An ounce of prevention... :)

And for what it's worth, some think we're due for a serious series of flares in 2012, but others debunk this.

Kaye Manro said...

Hi Laurie, I agree that we will need to keep an eye on solar flares within the next couple of years. And I think you are brilliant for making hard copies of your work. Hey, I've lost entire stories because of crashes. So even if I'm backed up on flash, and everything gets knocked out, where will I be then? I say hard copy for sure!
Thanks for stopping by and sharing you keen insights.