Dark Ages 2.0+ ?

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We have all learned over the years, sometimes the hard way, that we need to protect our electronics and more particularly magnetic (like computer/digital camera storage) devices from the influence of magnetic fields. An EMP is sometimes also used to describe one very strong pulse of electromagnetic energy.

Submitted: July 09, 2008

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Submitted: July 09, 2008



Dark Ages 2.0+©

Hardening Our Susceptibility To Dark Ages 2.0

There was a great deal of interest in our

Web 2.0 Saturday, 28 June, 2008 post "World Wide Web Growth" wherein we mentioned a concern over a solar flare possibly destroying all of our efforts in this digital age. It might simply 'wipe' all magnetic storage on the entire planet?

"With the rate of conversion of all of the world's knowledge into digital format let's all hope that the earth does not get hit by a major solar flare; which with a concomitant electromagnetic pulse (EMP) (Wiki definition) might wipe out all data stored in this digital age."

Here we will look at this in more depth.

We have all learned over the years, sometimes the hard way, that we need to protect our electronics and more particularly magnetic (like computer/digital camera storage) devices from the influence of magnetic fields. An EMP is sometimes also used to describe one very strong pulse of electromagnetic energy.

History of magnetic impact:

Stories abound about the discovery of the effect of magnetism on electronics and magnetic storage devices:

  1. Microwave ovens were discovered by radar researchers who noticed the chocolate bars in their pockets would melt when they went by one of these devices: Ref. (Wiki) "Cooking food with microwaves was discovered by Percy Spencer while building magnetrons for radar sets at Raytheon. He was working on an active radar set when he noticed that a peanut chocolate bar he had in his pocket started to melt. The radar had melted his candy bar with microwaves."
  2. One property of magnetic media is that they are very sensitive to magnetic fields, due to there use of these fields to read and store data. This has long been an issue with magnetic disks being carried in / near hospital rooms that use medical equipment which emits high magnetic fields. If strong enough, a magnetic field can 'degauss' memory. (Wiki - Anti-computer forensics) - "Disk degaussing (see degauss) is a process by which a reversed magnetic field is applied to a digital media device. The result is a device that is entirely clean of any previously stored data. Degaussing is rarely used as an anti-forensic method despite the fact that it is the most reliable way to ensure data has been wiped. This is attributed to the high cost of degaussing machines, which are difficult for the average consumer to afford." But his might be unavoidable with a major EMP.
  3. We will not discuss to what degree information on magnetic media can truly be ‘erased’ since no information is available on the potential strength of (pulsed) electromagnetic fields. For now, we will just say that the data can be corrupted, or negatively altered, by the presence of strong magnetic fields.
  4. Historically, electromagnetic pulse (EMP) was associated with the cold war and the possible impact of nuclear war. Defense systems had to be 'hardened' against the effect of the EMP if a thermonuclear weapon went off. Unfortunately in Wikipedia, analysis stops at nuclear war scenarios (Wiki: Electromagnetic pulse)

Of course, other than thermonuclear war, there are other potential sources of strong magnetic forces:

  1. Electromagnetic Phenomena Related to Earthquakes and Volcanoes. (Ref: 2007 papers presented at AGU) ... AGU - American Goephysical Union - is a scientific society with a membership of 50,000 researchers, teachers, and students. AGU conducts meetings and conferences, publishes journals, books and a weekly newspaper, and sponsors a variety of educational and public information programs.
  2. EMP -Electro-Magnetic Pulse 'Tesla Weapons' (non nuclear) (Ref: Wiki - Electronic pulse; Non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse (NNEMP) is an electromagnetic pulse generated without use of nuclear weapons. There are a number of devices to achieve this objective, ranging from a large low-inductance capacitor bank discharged into a single-loop antenna or a microwave generator to an explosively pumped flux compression generator.)
  3. Lightening Strikes (Ref: Wiki - Lightening Strike) ... A bolt of lightening is a linearly extended source of EM radiation, and hence, the field falls of linearly with the distance, not with its square. And yes, your electronics will get damaged if your neighbors house is struck by lightening, unless you use surge protectors or are lucky.
  4. Meteor Impact. (Ref: Iowa DNR - Department of Natural Resources - Iowa's Manson Impact Structure) ...
  5. There is historical reference to such powerful solar magnetic activity on earth that created such powerful magnetic fields that in the 1800s telegraphs could be run without batteries, but by the influence of the solar flares, only. Ref. Wikipedia - Auroral events of historical significance
  6. BBC.co.uk - "Solar flare confirmed as biggest" Friday, 7 November, 2003 - Solar scientists have confirmed that Tuesday's explosion on the Sun was, by far, the biggest flare ever recorded, capping an energetic solar period. (Mankind has only been recording 'solar flares' for a few short decades.) There is much more in the historical record (see 5, above and (Ref: Wiki - ... between 330 and 320 BC. Pytheas is the first person on record to describe ... the aurora ...)
  7. In 1989, when a fierce CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) struck the Earth, it blew out HydroQuebec's power grid, leaving almost seven million people without electricity, and a multimillion-dollar damage bill. (Ref: University of Michigan)

The world's magnetic field (magnetosphere) protects the earth from solar mass ejections. Normally even large flares can't do much damage to terrestrial things because the Earth's magnetic field acts as a shield against the power of these eruptions. However, it has recently been noted that the field is rapidly weakening and that a 'pole reversal' might occur soon. During this period the Earth would be vulnerable to hazardous solar developments: Ref. NOVA Science Programming On Air and Online > Magnetic Storms > from PBS concern is expressed that the world's magnetic field is weakening.

See also,

  1. NASA - Solar Cycle Prediction Provides detailed scientific background, showing the current major cycle peaking at around the year 2012 ... NASA - Cycle 23-24 Sunspot Number Predictor (gif)
  2. NASA > Solar Physics > Marshall Solar Physics "Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) disrupt the flow of the solar wind and produce disturbances that strike the Earth with sometimes catastrophic results."
  3. From National Geographic feature article - "Our life-giving sun throws tempests that can scramble modern technology. New telescopes and satellites let scientists probe the secrets of the temperamental star." ... "Although nearly everything that happens in and on the sun affects our planet, two kinds of explosive solar events impact Earthlings most severely. One is a solar flare, in which a small area above the solar surface suddenly roars to tens of millions of degrees, throwing off a surge of radiation that can cause communications blackouts, disable satellites, or theoretically, kill a spacewalking astronaut. The other event is a coronal mass ejection (CME), in which billions of tons of charged particles escape from the sun's halo, the corona, at millions of miles an hour. When these behemoth clouds slam into Earth's protective magnetosphere, they squash the magnetic field lines and dump trillions of watts of power into Earth's upper atmosphere. This can overload power lines, causing massive blackouts, and destroy delicate instruments on anything in Earth orbit."
  4. Solar Cycle 24.com - [ Updates every 2 minutes ]
  5. SpaceWeather.com - Current Conditions ... Subscription: SpaceWeather Telephone / eMail Alerts
  6. National Computer Security Center (Ref: - A Guide to Understanding Data Remanence in Automated Information Systems)
  7. On Wednesday, 1 November, 2003 one the most powerful CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) was expected to hit it's peak effect on the Earth, full on. (Ref: National Geographic News, October 29, 2003 - "Perfect Sun Storm Threatens Power, Phones." ... "One of the largest solar eruptions in history is sending a giant electromagnetic pulse our way at speeds of millions of miles per hour. Due to hit Earth any time from now, scientists say it could trigger worldwide outages in power grids and communication networks—and spectacular auroral lights in the night skies."
  8. Solar Storms > Blackouts provides some (relatively 'weak' references ... "Electrical power blackouts and 'sags' cost the US about $80 billion every year in lost services, industrial capacity and Gross Domestic Product. Blackouts caused by space weather events are potentially more devastating than a major hurricane landfall. The space weather 'Storm of the Century' could cause hardships more severe than anything we have thus far experienced."
  9. Solar Storms > Technical ... "Currently, there are 936 operating satellites in space with a replacement cost of $200 billion. The telecommunications industry relies on them to generate $250 billion in profits each year. Virtually every class of operating satellite has demonstrated a vulnerability to space weather storms. Most are minor, but many involve consequences leading to satellite damage or failure. The orbit of the International Space Station (ISS) is very sensitive to the level of solar storms which cause excess atmospheric drag. ... During sunspot maximum conditions, the ISS loses 146 kilometers of altitude each year. It would burn up in the atmosphere if it were not 're-boosted' every few months."
  10. X Class Flare Region on the Sun - 21 April, 2002 (Photograph) ... (Video - Quick Time)

Other References:
Solar Storms > Cycle 24 Sunspot Maximum in 2011 or 2012 ... (Ref: Solar Cycle 24 Prediction Presented by the NOAA Space Environment Center (SEC)) - The panel agrees solar maximum will occur near October, 2011 for the large cycle (Ri=140) case and August, 2012 for the small cycle (Ri=90) prediction.
(Wiki: Measuring Magnetism - Tesla unit) ... "The tesla (symbol T) is the SI derived unit of magnetic field (specifically magnetic flux density). The tesla is equal to one weber per square metre and was defined in 1960[1] in honor of inventor, scientist and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla." ...

"1 tesla is equivalent to:

  • 10,000 (or 104) gauss (G), used in CGS system. Thus, 10 G = 1 mT (1 millitesla)
  • 1,000,000,000 (or 109) gammas (?), used in geophysics. Thus, 1 ? = 1 nT (nanotesla)"

Of course there are other points of view - (this from PCWorld). Albeit, those often have reason for a bias. For instance they might:

  • not be aware of the some of the well founded scientific facts that support an argument to protect against such massive data destructive risk. (Ref: Wiki - Radiation hardening)
  • be members of the computer/technology community more interested in profits than digital security.
  • not be willing to go to the high expense of 'hardening' systems.
  • be biased towards supporting the view that the whole world best do everything digitally, and the sooner the better; with no 'hard copy' backup.

As mentioned previously, there is a danger here. If everything goes digital and we loose all human knowledge to an EMP the world would immediately go back to the second "Dark Ages." Let's call it Dark Ages 2.0+©. (My book is in the works - just don't know whether to make it an eBook. - Ed)

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