Van E. Harl

DO NOT TOUCH THAT KEY BOARD: YOU MAY FRY

There is global warming, the war in Iraq, the democrats back in power, and I have to move to the uncharted mountains of Colorado possibly never to be seen again. As if I don’t have enough to worry about, now there is the issue of massive radiation striking the earth because of solar flares from the sun.

My old roommate from Army Infantry School lives in the back hills of western Virginia raising chickens and exotic sheep. But when he is not butchering a hog by hand, he sits an Army intelligence desk somewhere in Virginia. He spends his days watching the Asian countries and the middle-east for potential problems that could negatively impact the US. Every once in a while he likes to sent me unclassified information that scares the “heck” out of me.

In September of 1859 telegraph operators were sitting at the then only fifteen years old system sending out daily messages when they were found dead with their hands still on the sending key. Telegraph lines were melted for miles in all directions and fires were breaking out all over the place. Solar flares (also known as coronal mass ejections) to include a massive one had erupted on the sun and sent out millions of watts of electromagnetic energy straight for the earth. Of course that energy is looking for a place to ground its self into the earth. In those days the telegraph lines with their copper wire functioned as giant lightning rods and provided a path for this sudden massive burst of electric energy. The Northern Lights that I got to watch regularly while stationed in Alaska can be seen sometimes in the northern part of the US, but in 1859 during that super storm on the sun, these lights were seen in Cuba and Hawaii.

Technology was not that advanced in 1859. Other than the destructive damage to the telegraph systems and railroad workers found fried on metal railroad tracks, there was not a whole lot of damage that would stop society. But technology and the times have changed. Think back to 1999 when everyone was scrambling to get ready for Y2K. There was the belief that computers were going to fail when the world rolled into the year 2000. It did not happen but there were years of advanced warning and years to prepare just in case.

Solar flares cannot be predicted. If one of these mass ejections shoots out in the direction of earth the impact can arrive in days. If the solar flare is of the size of the one in 1859 or bigger, the effects could be felt in hours. Anything that runs on electricity and is turned on will most likely suffer damage. How many people do you know who cannot live without their computer? Their lives revolve around the instant worldwide communication that the web system provides. So how many of you leave your computer on all the time, even when you are not at home or work using that computer?

We have people in the military that spend twenty-four hours a day watching the sun for adverse impact on our satellites. If there is a flare up these satellite drivers try to move their very expensive and extremely valuable assets away from the negative effects of the sun. So with the military watching the sun you would expect a warning if something bad was about to happen. If you are at work and you get this warning can you get home in time to turn off all you computers, TVs, radios, and air conditioners?

There is not enough money in all the bank accounts of all the insurance companies in North America to pay the replacement costs for the damage that will occur. The ozone will be disrupted and there is expected to be a temporary hole in the protective layer. This of course will allow a dramatic increase in the UV radiation. You will need SF 200 sun block just to go out at night to inspect the damage to your world.

There is a good side to all of this. If you are in the business of making computers and communications equipment, and if you have prepared for this possible crisis, your stock value will shoot right through the roof when the new replacement orders come in. Of course there has to be a functioning and electronically communicating Stock Market in order for your stock to rise in price. Pray for cloudy days.