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Will A Massive Solar Flare Destroy the Earth?


X-Ray Image of the Sun
Stocktrek/ Photodisc/ Getty Images

Countless media outlets have been reporting that the Sun is gearing up for a massive solar storm that would disrupt communications, electronic devises and possibly power grids all over the world. Is this a sign that the 2012 prophecy is true? Was there any truth to the events in the blockbuster movie 2012?

Is This Related To the 2012 Prophecy?

Almost as soon as it was revealed that NASA was worried that a massive solar storm could erupt in the coming years, conspiracy theorists began pointing to the Mayan prophecy that predicts the end of the world in 2012.

First of all, the Mayans made no such prophecy. (You can read about that in detail here.) Secondly, it is very unlikely that such a coronal mass ejection would occur by the end of 2012. The peak of the solar maximum will not occur until at least 2013, and such massive solar storms do not typically occur until shortly after the peak of surface activity. Thirdly, and more to the point, such a solar flare would not destroy the Earth. At least not directly.

Yes, the sudden flux in charged particles would have an adverse effect on our electrical systems (including the entire grid system). And there will be some aurorae where there usually aren’t any. But ultimately, life will continue to flourish on the Earth.

When I said "at least not directly" I was being a bit coy. The reason is, you see, is that the impact to our electrical grid could be devastating and it could take months to repair. That means possibly no electricity for months. I’ll let you ponder the consequences for that for a moment. But don’t worry, the government is aware of this and they are putting safeguards in place to prevent such a cataclysm. We should be find.

What About the Movie 2012?

Now I feel obligated to address the specific scenario that was outlined in the blockbuster movie 2012. In the article I wrote on the 2012 conspiracy I addressed virtually all of the scientific reasons that the Earth could face an end. (And even some that made no scientific sense.) But never in my wildest dreams would I have come up with what I saw in the movie.

I’ll look past the completely bogus assertion that planetary alignment caused increased solar activity. (No planetary alignments will occur in 2012. But even if there was, this would have no effect on solar activity. This was complete pandering to the 2012 conspiracy community.) Rather, I will just acknowledge for the sake of this article that a massive solar flare occurs in 2012.

The crux of the story is that solar neutrinos from the Sun are emitted during the flare with such a flux that they are heating up the Earth’s core. (For those of you reading this article that have a background in physics, I will give you a moment to quell your laughter and wipe the tears from your eyes before continuing to read.)

Now, the Sun does emit neutrinos in hugh amounts. You, while sitting there reading this, have 50 trillion solar neutrinos passing through your body every second. The reason that they don’t harm you is that they are charge neutral and have a nearly negligible mass.

Neutrinos are weakly interacting particles; and the same number that enter the Earth pass through the other side uninterrupted. How do we know this? Because we have spent literally billions of dollars to make these measurements. As it turns out neutrinos are excellent for doing all kinds of science.

The explanation given in the movie for why these neutrinos suddenly decided to change their non-interacting nature is that, while in the Earth, the neutrinos underwent some kind of quantum change that is not elaborated upon. Umm, sure. This actually makes no sense, but is probably a nod to a problem in solar neutrino physics.

Basically there was a discrepancy in the amount of solar neutrinos measured on Earth. However, this discrepancy was worked out during the last decade. Essentially, neutrinos can change type through oscillation. (There are three types.) But they can’t change into some completely new type of particle as was eluded to in the movie.

So there it is, while the movie was visually entertaining the science was pretty much awful (and I really didn’t go into the half of it). And the possible solar storms headed our way in the next several years aren’t likely to bring the Earth to an end.

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