The White House is developing a plan to protect American interests against an electromagnetic pulse caused by solar flares that has the potential to wipe out power around the world.
It may sound far-fetched, but it's happened before. Back in 1859 the Earth was walloped with a huge amount of solar activity known as the Carrington event. The solar activity was so high that the northern lights were spotted as far south as Cuba and Honolulu, and telegraph operators reported seeing sparks leap from their devices.
In our much more high-tech world, the impact today would be far greater, with the potential to wipe out and shut down power grids, cell phone technology, GPS devices, and even the Internet. A National Academy of Sciences report from 2008 suggested the cost of such an event could be $2.6 trillion.
See images of some of the wildest solar flares:
The government plans to work with various entities to release new space environment data and launch a space weather data initiative. It will also work to train emergency management on space weather events, increase international collaboration and publish more information about space weather in transportation reports.
As National Geographic reported, "the eastern half of the United States is particularly vulnerable, because the power infrastructure is highly interconnected, so failures could easily cascade like chains of dominoes."
"Imagine large cities without power for a week, a month, or a year," Daniel Baker, of the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, said. "The losses could be $1 to $2 trillion, and the effects could be felt for years."
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