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Blame the sun if Kolkata goes back to dark days

Solar maxima, which may occur in 3-4 months, may cut off power, damage satellites & expose fliers to X-rays

kolkata Updated: Aug 16, 2013 12:32 IST
Joydeep Thakur
Joydeep Thakur
Hindustan Times

The entire city could plunge into darkness.

Your television set and AC could start malfunctioning or even get damaged.

If you are on board an international flight, chances are that you could be hit by X-rays, the dose of which is 30 times more than a standard chest X-ray.

And, all these could take place in the next three to four months depending on the position of the earth and the sun.

This is no idle imagination.

Something like this actually happened, paralysing New York in 2003 when it swept past the path of solar flares.

According to scientists, 2013 is a solar maxima year - a time when the sun’s activity reaches a peak. Increased solar activity leading to problems described above occurs every 11 years.

During this period, high doses of charged particles come out of the sun with speed exceeding 1,000 km per second and flow past everything causing massive disturbances in the electrical and electronic networks along with communication satellites.

“Surge of these solar particles can disrupt the magnetic field and cause unprecedented disasters if our earth comes in the way,” said Debiprosad Duari, director (research and academics) of MP Birla Planetarium.

A city-based scientist, SK Chakrabarti, from the Indian Centre for Space Physics, had alerted the director general of civil aviation on the possible effects of such solar flares on air passengers after he detected charged particles penetrating the atmosphere.

That the sun is nearing maxima can be presumed from the enhanced level of solar activity.

One of the signatures is a complete reversal of the sun’s magnetic field.

While the sun’s north pole has already changed positions, scientists over the past few days are noticing that the south pole is also gradually changing its magnetic polarity.

Scientists guess that within the next three to four months, the flipping over of magnetic poles would be completed and this could give rise to a tremendous surge of high velocity charged particles.

“No one knows in which direction the surge would be triggered. But if the earth comes in its way, the results could be disastrous,” said Duari.

But what could be the possible effects?

He said that these charged particles could disrupt high tension power grids causing malfunctioning of transformers and trigger large-scale power failure.

They may disrupt and destroy our communication satellites.

During a solar storm, the electro magnetic pulse (EMP) can destroy electrical and electronic installations and devices too.

“Such disruptions had happened in the past too. We have lost some satellites and large areas of New York City plunged into darkness in 2003. Major power blackouts hit the city, destroying appliances and forcing residents to spend days and nights on the pavements, as they could not climb the high rises where they lived in view of the stationary elevators. Yunan province of China was also hit,” he added.

Air passengers who take long duration flights could be at risk too.

They may get an extra dose of X-ray radiation, which can sometimes be more than 30 times the X-ray that passes through your body during a routine chest X-ray.

The disturbance in the geomagnetic field of the earth can cause malfunctioning of directional instruments and cause erratic reading of a magnetic compass.

This can trigger potentially dangerous events such as an aircraft flying with the help of an autopilot might lose direction and go off route,” Duari added.

First Published: Aug 16, 2013 12:26 IST