Following sensational photographs posted by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory of solar flares occurring on Tuesday, April 16, doomsday prognosticators came out of the virtual woodwork, re-igniting the argument that 2012 will see the end of the world through any number of calamities, including solar flares.
A sudden intense variation in brightness, a solar flare results from magnetic energy within the solar atmosphere being suddenly released — the equivalent of millions of hydrogen bombs exploding simulataneously. Radiation from the flare is emitted across the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Some of this radiation travels to Earth.
While sunspots had been observed for centuries, most notably by Galileo (who took flak from the Church, not surprisingly, this time for suggesting that the sun, having spots, was imperfect), the first solar flare was not recorded in scientific literature until late summer, 1859. Amateur astronomers Richard C. Carrington and Richard Hodgson were studying sunspots at the time. Corrington observed that
“..within the area of the great north group, two patches of intensely bright and white light broke out…My first impression was that by some chance a ray of light had penetrated a hole in the screen attached to the object glass, for the brilliancy was fully equal to that of direct sun-light… In [a] lapse of five minutes, the two patches of light traversed a space of about 35,000 miles.” — Carrington, “Description of a Singular Appearance seen in the sun on September 1, 1859.” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, vol. 20, 13-15, 1860
In the wake of this “Corrington Event,” the largest geomagnetic storm was observed; aurorae were seen around the world and telegraph systems across the globe failed.
Moderate in scale as far as sun storms are concerned, the solar flare of this past week was tagged an M 1.7 class (C is the mildest, M is moderate and X is severe). Little radiation made it to earth. And while there are those in the pseudo-scientific community that argue that any amount of solar radiation can cause everything from stimulation of the pineal gland to stomach aches and mood disorders, their speculations pale in comparison to the 2012 prophets of doom that see any astronomical or geological event as precursor to the end of time — or time as we know it.
The National Geographic Channel has dedicated a new television program to these “doomsday preppers” and this week, it’s no coincidence that the (wickedly cool) Doomsday Dashboard shows that electromagnetic pulse from solar flares trending at 22% as the most likely cause of the apocalypse.
Will the world end in 2012? Unlikely. Civilization has been forecasting its own ultimate demise for millenia. From the Book of Daniel written in 164 BC to the rantings of Harold Camping, God has apparently been planning mankind’s end pretty much since he created us. And if you think it’s just Camping who went off the deep end with his end-of-world rhetoric, look no further than “theologian” and radio host Pastor Paul Begley from Indiana.
Free plug for Begley: check out his website, and while you’re there, pick up the “Jesus Saves” travel mug. It’s the perfect gift for your commuting wife or husband, friend or relative that is bound to soon be stuck in a LOT of traffic when the electromagnetic pulse from the next massive solar flare takes out our car batteries, traffic lights, and smart phones.
Fortunately, for those in Indiana, the seemingly inevitable massive solar flare will also shut down Begley’s radio broadcast.
For more information, visit NASA’s 2012: Beginning of the End or Why the World Won’t End? for a rapid fire debunking of some of the more prevalent doomsday scenarios.