Nasa has warned that some parts of the world (including the UK) could face mass power blackouts, loss of communication, air travel and severe distruption to electrical items in 2013 as they predict a massive rise in solar flares when the sun awakes from it's (relative) slumber in a once in a lifetime occurrence.
Unless precautions are taken the UK could be left without emergency services, security and any form of basic health care with damage to everything from emergency systems, hospital equipment, banking systems and air traffic control devices, through to "everyday" items such as computers, Televisions, iPods and Sat Navs.
Due to our ever increasing reliance on technology this could potentially be an event on an almost apocalyptic scale and could cost billions of pounds to repair, seriously effecting the government and the already debt ridden economy.
When interviewed by the Daily Telegraph, Dr Richard Fisher, the director of Nasa's Heliophysics division and a Nasa scientist for 20 years said:
"We know it is coming but we don't know how bad it is going to be. It will disrupt communication devices such as satellites and car navigations, air travel, the banking system, our computers, everything that is electronic. It will cause major problems for the world."
Dr Fisher added:
"Large areas will be without electricity power and to repair that damage will be hard as that takes time. Systems will just not work. The flares change the magnetic field on the earth that is rapid and like a lightning bolt. That is the solar affect."
This shocking news was first mentioned last week in a space conference at Washington DC last, although at that time only limited information was given. In a worst case scenario some areas could be left without power for months although it is much more likely that the areas that have inherently "weak" power grids which include northern Europe and the UK would be left without power for hours or possibly days.
Dr Fisher has advised that precautions should be taken as if a very serious hurricane was going to strike with backup power systems for essential services like hospitals and development of a "safe mode" for satellites. In the UK we do have the "National Risk Register" which was setup in 2008 to plan for these type of eventualities, although it is unknown if any of these plans are actually in place.
The last time solar flares of this severity have been recorded was way back in 1859, a time that barely had electricity but still managed to see disruption to their way of life as telegraph lines in the US and Europe shorted out, causing numerous fires. It also made the Northern Lights visible as far south as Rome, Havana and Hawaii.
Without wanting to cast doubt on the validity of this claim it does appear to contradict a news report by the BBC news in April this year that claimed that the recent harsh winter in the UK was caused by low solar activity as the sun begins a "Maunder Minimum" (a prolonged period of very low activity on the Sun that lasts about 50 years). This theory is based on empirical data going back over 350 years. You can read the BBC report here:
He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.
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