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That super solar flare

13 August 2013

The Daily Telegraph, August 13th (2013) under Science, has Michael Hanlon telling us that a colossal solar flare hit the Earth in the Dark Ages – and catastrophe could strike any time. Another bit of doomsaying you might say but is reporting on past events such as this doom laden as doom clearly did not happen and the world suvived. Doomsaying is somewhat apocalypitic and concerns doom laden events in the future -which is the nature of the lengthy article. Past events are used to predict future events – with far worse results. Invariably Tunguska is mentioned and recent fly-bys (large lumps of space rock sailing close to the orbit of the Earth) and the Russian meteor (in February).

Roger of Wendover, he says, recorded an aurora event over England, in terms of fiery signs in the heavens after sunset. Serpents appeared (in the sky) in Sussex, and elsewhere, to the astonishment of all. This can hardly be a reference to shooting stars which are a common occurrence – but aurora events are often likened to serpents in the sky. It may be a bit desperate but people have connected this reference by Roger of Wendover to the influx of C14 in AD776 – but Roger's date is AD762. Now, this appears to be, taken at face value and assuming Roger's date is based on Bede, confirmation of Steve Mitchell's theory that Bede's dates are 15 years out of kilter (see various articles in SIS journals). Tree rings don't lie – so 775/6 stands. Interesting odd fact that crops up in Hanlon's article – a date that is out of sync with the tree rings. Why?

Hanlon then brings up that other staple of doom saying, the Carrington solar flare of 1859 – and an aurora event seen across California, Queensland, Washington DC, among other places. It was basically a light show – apart from the well publicised effects on the telegraph system in the US. This is commonly used as doom and gloom in the offing – if it happens again it will knock out the national grids, electronic systems, water and sewage plants, fry the odd satellite, and so on. What they fail to mention is that the telegraph system at that time was rudimentary and wide open to electrical interference (it wasn't earthed properly). Lots of water has gone under the bridge since 1859 and electrical systems are much safer. It is a moot point what a massive solar flare might do – but recent flares do not indicate the doom and gloom is as severe as portrayed by the doomsayings. Its all a bit reminiscent of the ozone hole doomsayings which were virtually hysterical a few years ago and still crop up on blog comments and elsewhere. The hole wasn't really a hole but was due to the solar wind (as a result of a solar flare we may note) flushing out ozone from above the Poles, shifting it to the temperate zones – and was gradually regained as the effects of the solar wind diminished. No hole existed at any time – there was just less ozone than was there prior to the solar wind event.

Interestingly, it is suggested the AD775/6 event could have been caused by a comet colliding with the Sun (David ERichler, Ben Gurion University). Hanlon then adds we don't know much about thunder and lightning either. The hypothesis that electrical charges build up in ice particles suspended in clouds is incredibly weak – not enough energy could be generated to make lightning flashes according to Alexander Gurevich (a Russian scientist). He thinks cosmic rays are to blame and these ionise the atmosphere generating immense electric discharges. We shall have to wait and see on that one.

On the same page of the broadsheet Roger Highfield comments, 'new research rewrites history for the Big Bang onwards. Highfield works at the Science Museum and claims the history of the universe may require a rethink. For some 100 years it has been regarded as a sort of inflating baloon – decorated with galaxies. Now, Christoff Wetterich of the University of Heideburg in Germany is suggesting the universe may not actually be expanding – and red shift is a mirage. Meanwhile, Hong Sheng Zhao, a cosmologist at the University of St Andrews, has worked on an alternative theory of gravity. Harry Cliff, a physicist involved with CERN, also associated with the Science Museum, thinks it striking that a universe where particles are getting heavier could look identical to ones where space and time is expanding. Two different ways of thinking about the same problem. He adds, String Teory is full of dualities like this which allow theorists to pick out whichever view fits their maths.

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