The United States Department of Homeland Security has turned its attention towards the Sun this week in an attempt to determine the cause of some anomalous solar activity. President Bush has authorized a country-wide elevation of status to Yellow Alert until terrorist activity can be conclusively ruled out.
For the past two weeks, scientists have been reporting an unprecedented rise in the amount of solar activity coming from our Sun. This atypical activity began with a series of four flares on Oct. 22nd and ended 13 days later with the largest flare recorded since satellite observations began in 1976.
“It’s like the Earth is looking right down the barrel of a giant gun pointed at us by the sun… and it’s taken two big shots at us,” said John Kohl of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics last week. Because the Sun reached the peak of it’s 11-year activity cycle in late 2000, scientists are at a loss to explain this sudden rise in solar flares. “I have not seen anything like it in my entire career as a solar physicist. The probability of this happening is so low that it is a statistical anomaly,” Kohl added.
It’s precisely that low probability that has the government worried.
“Since scientists can determine no astronomical reason why our Sun should be acting strangely, we have decided to use resources of our own to find a solution closer to home,” said Tom Ridge, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, in a White House conference today. “The president will be asking Congress to allocate more funds to our continuing War on Terror, and we are confident that history will judge us as being safe, rather than sorry.”
NOAA scientists confirm that such solar activity will likely result in noticeable repercussions here on Earth. One of the larger solar flares in the series resulted in a coronal mass ejection (or CME) of over two billion tons of solar material that was hurtled towards our planet. Even with the advance warning of the SOHO Spacecraft, installations here on Earth typically only have a few hours’ warning before the arrival of the highly charged particles.
The most noticeable result of these fast moving particulars coming into contact with our atmosphere is an increase in the colorful Northern and Southern Lights or Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis.
President Bush said, “The impact on the American public by the effects of observable Aurora in the lower latitudes should not dismissed. Strange lights in the sky have always upset people that don’t understand what they’re seeing and it’s not inconceivable that an al-Quaeda or Islamic Jihad terrorist cell is engaging their own ‘Shock and Awe’ campaign.”
“Shock and Awe” refers to the war plan used by the United States against Iraq. In March, the greater American force struck cities and military installations with an unprecedented number of guided cruise missiles. By using overwhelming force, the plan focused on the psychological destruction of the enemy’s will to fight.
But the confusion caused by the Northern Lights appearing as far south as Texas is not the government’s greatest concern. Scientists and space weather forecasters warn that severe geomagnetic storms caused by the CMEs could disrupt radio communications, disable satellites, and even knock out power grids.
Smaller solar storms have wreaked havoc in the past. In 1994, a solar flare caused problems with communications satellites and disrupted television and radio signals in Canada. In March of 1989, the Hydro-Quebec power grid was knocked offline for over nine hours after an X15 flare was recorded.
The potential of energy of our Sun is staggering. Over one million Earths could fit within its 1.4 million kilometer-wide sphere and the nuclear energy generated each second is more than that of 100 billion tons of TNT exploding. Proportionally small CMEs directed towards Earth with a rating of only X1 can have noticeable repercussions and in the past two weeks SOHO has recorded an X10, X17.2, and an almost off-the-scale X28.
“To put it into laymen’s terms, these clouds of hot gas constitute a mass greater than that of Mt. Everest and explode outwards at speeds up to five million miles per hour,” said Bush’s National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice. “Our current missile defense technology is not yet up to the task of defending against such a threat. It is therefore obvious that we need to allocate more funds towards sustaining our ongoing strategy of homeland security.”
“Whatever it costs to defend our country, we will pay,” President Bush added. “We will use the extra funds to improve intelligence, tighten border security, and develop countermeasures against possible attacks directed at us from the Sun.
“We will not back down in our War on Terror. The Axis of Evil’s tampering with what we consider to be the ultimate weapon of mass destruction will not be tolerated.”