Last Thursday, I got an e-mail from the Department of Engineering, warning against possible hazards associated with the Solar Storm of the Century. Not knowing much about the topic, I followed the link contained in the e-mail and was shocked to discover that the world as we know it was heading back into the dark ages.
The website, Solar Storm Warning, preached of the upcoming global catastrophe with masses of pointless charts and blinking graphics. The degree of fear-mongering that went into creating this website is truly impressive. SSW clearly spelled out — in bold red text, so you know they’re serious — how to prepare for the yearlong power outages and the shift in the earth’s magnetic field by stocking up on canned food and bottled water in their Solar Storm Survival Guide. It was pretty much everything a person who’s watched Apocalypse Week on the History Channel would expect.
Despite the inclination to disbelieve everything SSW has to say, solar storms are real. They stem from solar flares of subatomic particles on the surface of the sun. The energy released through these flares blast the Earth with solar storms, which can affect GPS systems and power grids.
Now, I had planned on waking early on Friday to observe the madness first-hand, but hey, it was a Friday. So when I woke at the crack of noon, I was shocked to discover that the world hadn’t stopped spinning. I’m sure that was somewhere on SSW’s list of possible fallouts from the storm. Though the solar storm did hit the globe, its effects were minimal.
In the past, the storms have been known to interfere with electrical grids and satellites — in 1989 a solar storm caused an electrical grid failure in Quebec, rendering nearly 6 million people powerless. The technological advances in those areas, however, have given these systems the capacity to overcome celestial interference. Also, it turns out that this Storm of the Century occurs about every 11 years or so — making them about as rare as a high school reunion.
I enjoy a doomsday prophecy just as much as the next guy, but enough is enough. The whole concept of the 2012 Mayan apocalypse has been overplayed and according to NASA, planetary collisions, magnetic field shifts and solar flares aren’t the end for our world.
In light of the recent publicity for the various ways our world’s going to end, NASA released a video to dispel the obscene notion of the 2012 apocalypse.
Don Yeomans, leader of the Near-Earth Objects Program Office at NASA, explains that there is no massive planet set to collide with Earth this December and if there was, it would be relatively easy to spot. Yeomans points out that “thousands of astronomers who scan the sky on a daily basis haven’t seen this [rouge planet].” He also dismisses the idea that these astronomers have somehow managed to keep the impending doom of our planet under wraps over the years.
SSW warned that the solar storm had the capability to cause an abrupt shift in the Earth’s magnetic field. It turns out that this isn’t even kind of true. There’s no scientific evidence that such a shift will occur in December 2012 or that it could be caused by solar storms. A swing in the magnetic field does occur about every half million years, but “even if it did shift, it would take thousands of years to do so,” giving everyone plenty of time to change the N to an S on their compass.
Yeomans also touches on topics like solar flares and disastrous planetary alignments. He proceeds to shut down any lingering fear that such a cosmic event could have any — let alone apocalyptic — repercussions. Each is a naturally occurring event in our solar system and poses no threat to our planet or to human health.
It seems that the world won’t end on Dec. 21 — much to the chagrin of websites like SSW — and it’s time for those would-be prophets out there to stop with the scare tactics. It’s getting old. To those who think they’re right about the end of the world: What’s the point of lingering on such a morbid thought? Let’s focus on ways we can tangibly improve our world — like protecting the environment and reducing our carbon footprint — instead of concentrating on how it’s going to end.
Joe Sugiyama can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JoeSugiyama.