By Michael Brooks
The New Scientist
23 March 2009
IT IS midnight on 22 September 2012 and the skies above Manhattan are
filled with a flickering curtain of colourful light. Few New Yorkers
have seen the aurora this far south but their fascination is
short-lived. Within a few seconds, electric bulbs dim and flicker, then
become unusually bright for a fleeting moment. Then all the lights in
the state go out. Within 90 seconds, the entire eastern half of the US
is without power.
A year later and millions of Americans are dead and the nation's
infrastructure lies in tatters. The World Bank declares America a
developing nation. Europe, Scandinavia, China and Japan are also
struggling to recover from the same fateful event - a violent storm, 150
million kilometres away on the surface of the sun.
It sounds ridiculous. Surely the sun couldn't create so profound a
disaster on Earth. Yet an extraordinary report funded by NASA and issued
by the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in January this year claims
it could do just that.
Over the last few decades, western civilisations have busily sown the
seeds of their own destruction. Our modern way of life, with its
reliance on technology, has unwittingly exposed us to an extraordinary
danger: plasma balls spewed from the surface of the sun could wipe out
our power grids, with catastrophic consequences.
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