Most people are not aware of when a Solar Flare occurs. The standard solar flare is not seen by the unaided eye of humans, nor is it smart to look at the sun anyways. Despite this, they do happen. Us being on earth and within our atmosphere are generally protected from any harm a Solar Flare can cause. However, other things like power and electronics, may not escape damage.

The number of solar flares grows approximately every eleven years. At the moment, the sun has been in a deep solar minimum, so it is predicted that in a few years, 2025, we will likely see the next solar maximum. So, more flares are coming, mostly small, but there might be some big enough to reach Earth and affect the UV index, magnetic field, and interfere with electronic frequencies.

The real question here is: what can you do to prepare yourself to deal with solar flares should they ever be big enough to cause humans damage?

What is a Solar Flare?

While a flare describes a sudden, intense, and rapid variation in brightness or light, a solar flare is essentially a giant explosion that occurs on the surface of the sun, which releases light, energy, and high-speed particles into space.

Solar flares can last for a few minutes to several hours and are typically seen with the aid of X-rays and optical light. Often enough, they are often accompanied by solar storms like coronal mass ejections (CME), solar particle events, or other solar phenomena.

~Classes of Solar Flares

~Generally, a solar flare can be A, B, C, M, or X-class. Each class is then divided into a logarithmic scale from 1-9. So, each class is divided into 9 subcategories like A1-A9; except for the X class. The X class does not end at X9 but can continue on. Generally, though, anything over an X10 is classified as a ‘Super X-Class Solar Flare’.

~Solar flares in the A & B classes are the lowest class. These flares happen the most and are rather harmless. C-class flares are considered minor, while M-class flares are considered medium to medium large. These ones can cause radio blackouts on the daylight side of Earth. Lastly, X-class solar flares are obviously the largest and most dangerous. During an average year about 10 of these will happen a year but can be more frequent during a solar maximum.

~The 3 Stages of a Solar Flare

~A solar flare generally occurs in three stages. The time it takes to run through each stage can range from only a few short seconds to as long as an hour.

~~Precursor Stage

~~This is the first stage. At this stage, the release of magnetic energy is triggered, and mild X-ray emissions can be detected.

~~Impulsive Stage

~~During the second stage, electrons and protons are accelerated to energies that surpass a million electron volts (MeV). Hard X-rays, radio waves, and gamma rays are emitted at this stage.

~~Decay Stage

~~This is the third and final stage. The step-by-step build-up and subsequent decay of soft X-rays are detected here.

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What Causes Solar Flares

A solar flare happens when intense magnetic field lines near sunspots become too tangled: causing them to cross, reorganize, and consequently erupt. It is much like how a rubber band snaps when twisted too far past its breaking point. In the case of a solar flare, the magnetic fields release massive amounts of energy when it erupts.

~How often does a solar storm happen?

~A solar storm or geomagnetic storm tends to occur at different times depending on what stage of the 11-year solar cycle the flaming ball of gas is currently at. At its peak, a solar maximum, several solar storms could occur each day. At its lowest, solar minimum, it could be as low as once a week.

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What Could Happen if a Solar Storm hit Earth?

Mostly, solar flares occur without the disruption of life because they are often not large enough to reach Earth’s atmosphere. But if one that's big enough were to hit Earth, the impact could be catastrophic.

First, the amount of radiation released would be lethal to astronauts in space who are not protected by the Earth's atmosphere, especially ones who are not fully equipped with protective gear.

Then, a cloud of charged particles (coronal mass ejection) would collide with the magnetic field of Earth, causing geomagnetic storms and an intense aurora. The emitted X-rays and ultraviolet light would travel through the Earth's atmosphere and interfere with electronics, satellites, radio signals, and power grids; effectively triggering a large-scale power outage. This would lead to the decommissioning of everything from computers and cell phones to automobiles and airplanes.

As a society that relies heavily on technology, you can see how a solar flare hitting Earth could be disastrous.

~The Carrington Event

~The Carrington Event was the largest geomagnetic storm to have struck the earth in human history. The event occurred between September 1st & 2nd, 1859 just before the solar maximum of 1860. In August, a few weeks prior to the event several astronomers around the world, including Richard Carrington, watched as the number of sunspots on the sun grew exponentially. Two British astronomers Richard Carrington (the event’s namesake) and Richard Hodgson observed and recorded it independently, making it the first recorded solar flare in history.

~“The Carrington Event” solar flare generated an epic coronal mass ejection that took less than 24 hours to reach Earth, when most CME’s take a few days to reach us. The CME featured strong auroras from the polar regions all the way down to the tropics. The geomagnetic storm that followed cause telegraph communications to fail across the world. Thankfully most solar events do not pose harm to those of us on the ground.

~If an event like this happened during the present day, we would likely see the world’s first internet apocalypse. If the modern power-grid was knocked out people would lose their minds. The added modern benefit is most of the world has the means to quickly and efficiently repair any damages caused by a solar storm.

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Preparing for a Solar Event

Solar storms have, in the past, disrupted communication equipment. With how advanced we have gotten since the Carrington Event, our advanced technologies on Earth are even more valuable. If current solar storm was able to affect out technologies, it would definitely directly impact our day-to-day life. In the face of such impending threat of a blackout, your best bet, as always, is to ensure you are prepared beforehand.

~Stock up on Food and Water

~During a blackout, as is often the case with natural emergencies, grocery stores quickly run out of food or are looted. Seeing as you can't grow your food in such a short period, you will need to ensure you keep your pantry stocked. Focus on primary non-perishable foods like dried foods and canned goods.  

~Your refrigerator would likely only stay cold for about 48 hours after the blackout, so you should start by eating your fruits and vegetables while you can.

~Also, stock up on drinking water. Aim for 1 gallon of water per person each day. The water pipes shouldn’t be affected but to be safe, it is always safe to match your food storage with comparable water storage.

~Prepare the House and Car

~It's your house, so you should know where your emergency food, water, and other supplies are located for when the shit hits the fan. Keep your windows and doors locked at all times so as to keep out burglars during extreme emergency periods.

~Always keep your vehicle's fuel tank at least half full. The reason for this is that gas stations use electricity to power their pumps and you don't want to be stranded should you need fuel. Additionally, in an emergency, like food and water, fuel is the next thing to go quick.

~Also ensure that you can perform any important actions manually like being able to locate and operate the manual release lever for your garage door or water main access.

~Prepare for Outages and Surges

~First, protect your electronics from potential power surges. Secondly, having a backup power source would make the entire situation more pleasant. You can get a generator and keep extra fuel close by, install solar panels, or a small wind turbine.

~Keep backup batteries for your flashlights, lanterns, and other battery powered items. You can also get power banks, car chargers, and hand-crank chargers to help keep rechargeable electronics alive. Keep an emergency box with matches and flashlights but remember that it's not recommended to use open flames within the house.

~If you own a traditional landline — non-broadband or VOIP — phone, keep a non-cordless receiver in your house. They work even in the event of a blackouts. Also consider stashing paper copies and backup copies of your important digital personal and financial records on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis for safekeeping.

~Avoid Air & Car Travel

~If a real threat is plausible NASA will release a statement to expect a solar event within a determined set of hours or days. Within the recommended time you don't want to be in the air when the solar storm could strike. Traveling at such a high altitude increases your risk of exposure to solar radiation. Airplanes are also electronically managed. Since the satellite communications would be out, the airplane's navigation system would be down. Your plane may end up traveling in the wrong direction, lose control, or even collide with another plane.

~Stay away from cars and the subway as well. Essentially any mode of transportation that relies on any sort of electronic technology could end poorly. Train derailments or cars stopping erratically and dangerously due to compromised microchips could cause many many deaths.

~Shield Electronics from Electromagnetic Radiation

~An easy way to shield electronics from electromagnetic radiation is with a Faraday Cage—a sealed box that keeps out interference. The protective component is typically made of wire mesh or solid metal and must be fully enclosed to work. The inside comes with an insulated liner to prevent contact with the metal.

~If you are putting your electronics (phones, laptops, etc.) in a protective safe, make sure they are not plugged up to external chargers and the batteries have been removed, providing even more protection.

~Have a Cash Savings

~If electromagnetic radiation knocks out power grids, it could take a considerable time to get them back up. With electricity still out, ATMs and banks would be down, debit and credit cards would become useless. If you are looking to buy anything in the meantime you will need cash to get make these purchases.

~Keeping a few hundred dollars would be adequate.