The Carrington Effect
Argent Jaeger Press
Andrew B. Dill
The science behind "The Carrington Effect":
For hundreds of years, mankind has been aware of distinct phases of solar activity that recur in predictable ways, over relatively predictable time frames. This cyclical activity allows not only for the passing of the seasons, but also for the long term phases of climate, weather and temperature. Whether or not the recent climate change is due purely to changes in solar output, or is partially due to anthropomorphic activity, remains to be seen. Clearly, the sun's output has a radical effect on daily life on Earth.
In 1859, an English astronomer named Richard Carrington was busily observing sunspot activity through his telescope. One day he noted a particularity bright flash of light from the center of one of the sunspots. So intense was the light, that he was momentarily blinded. He raced to inform his colleagues of this exciting news. Records of his original discovery still present include even his own hand sketched drawings of the event, including the bright blindingly white flash.
At the time this event occurred, the telegraph was the state of the art in modern electronic communication. Entire continents and even oceans could be crossed with the touch of a contact wire. No one at the time knew the real significance of the solar event, and certainly, no one guessed that it could have effects on our tiny planet. What transpired a few hours later, even when viewed through today's understanding of science, is utterly shocking. It is horrifying.
Within hours of the solar explosion, a massive wave of charged particles known as solar plasma impacted the Earth's surface, sounding the warning bell for all future technological societies. Little did the residents of this seemingly quaint time understand the full magnitude of this unusual event. Even today, many in positions of power routinely ignore and underplay the potential risks faced by the earth from a repeat event.
The blast of energy that constantly strikes the earth is normally fully absorbed by our own electromagnetic defense shield, known as the Van Allen belt. These massive curtains of magnetic force are caused by the rotation of the earth's nickel core and are well able to handle very large energy blasts from the sun. What passes though is seen as an aurora, when the charged particles impact the upper atmosphere, in a dazzling and haunting light show.
On that fateful day in 1859, the energy that reached the earth was so powerful that the aurora reached Hawaii, on the dark side of the planet. The side of the planet facing away from the sun still had no protection from the onslaught. Interestingly, the color of the aurora in Hawaii was red, not the classically seen green color often noted at the poles. The light was so bright that people reported that they could read a newspaper by its reddish glow.
All over the rest of the planet, telegraph wires and metal objects glowed with intense energy, electrocuting operators and setting fire to fields of dried grass. No telegraph operators died, but many were shocked hard and flew back from their electrified equipment. Even hours after the wave of energy passed, many operators recorded that they were able to transmit signals without the use of their batteries, so great was the energy input into the system. This lasted more than a day.
These effects are truly stunning, especially when one considers that the largest known event in modern times was only estimated to be at twenty percent of the power of the Carrington Event. Further realizations that these events have happened before, well into prehistory, are equally stunning. Egyptian and Chinese history and mythology show clear examples of red colored dancing lights occurring in the sky. These have always been dismissed as comets or stellar events by modern historians, but the discovery that lower equatorial auroras can and do occur and that they display a red color confirm these accounts to be reasoned attempts to explain the natural world, not simple imaginary myths.
When, not if, an event of this magnitude occurs again, it will have much more far reaching effects than those of the 1859 event. This type of event will occur again, whether in one day or two hundred years. It will recur. With our modern dependence on electronic commerce, security, healthcare and transportation, the next "solar tsunami" will be far from a cute footnote in astronomical history. It will shake the very foundation of modern society.
The earth's magnetic field is created by a rapidly spinning central nickel core that acts as a planetary motor, thus creating the powerful Van Allen belts, which shield us daily from the onslaught of the sun's energy. The geological records shows clear evidence of periodic reversals of the direction or polarity of this magnetic field. In actual fact, the North and South poles have reversed periodically over the long history of the planet. Two prevailing theories exist to describe these periods of change.
The first theory describes a slow and steady changeover of the poles, with no effect on the intensity of the Van Allen belts. This gradual type of change would leave most of the electromagnetic shielding of the earth intact. If correct, were a solar storm to erupt during the geomagnetic reversal, its deleterious effects would be somewhat mitigated by the functioning belts. While still catastrophic, some regions would be less affected by such a storm. However, the alternate theory describes a much more violent possibility.
In this theory, the polar shift occurs much more rapidly, in a matter of hours to days. During the geomagnetic reversal, the entire Van Allen belt would destabilize and between five and seven "mini poles" would form, each with a very weak, constantly shifting field. The electromagnetic field protecting the earth from the sun would be irregular and very weak in comparison to today's robust field. Should a solar eruption occur during this type of geomagnetic reversal, the results would be utterly devastating.
Without Van Allen belt protection, the earth' surface would be bathed in intense particle radiation and electromagnetic force from such an eruption. Even the dark side of the earth would be washed in the flare's contents, as was evidenced by the aurora that reached Hawaii during the event in 1859. With our modern power grid, little could be done to recover from such an episode. It would truly usher in a new Dark Age.
Over the course of history, mankind has always feared plague events and has constructed many myths and stories to both explain the illness and death associated with these plagues, but also to cope with the terror inherent in such calamities. The earliest recorded references to known disease concern rabies. Mesopotamian law provided stiff penalties for allowing a person's rabid animal to bite another citizen. Many diseases have haunted man over the centuries, but rabies is arguably the oldest known plague. Fear of its ravaging effects is seen manifested in the myths of zombies, werewolves and vampires. The concept of a disease that is passed by a bite, that controls and destroys the mind of its helpless victims, and turns peaceful animals and men into violent, raging beasts has captivated human thought since the advent of writing, and likely long into prehistory. Medical historians even postulate that a human to human rabies epidemic may have occurred in France in the sixteenth century.
Unique among various rabies strains, bat rabies has certain unusual features that may not be present in other strains. In the early seventies, in Mexico, several goats were placed in cages in front of the mouths of bat caves known to harbor rabid bats. Even though the bats could not touch the test subjects, the goats were infected somehow with bat rabies. This is presumed to be evidence of native airborne transmission in the wild. There has even been a case of human rabies transmission, presumably from an attic bat in the victim's house. In this stunning case, the victim reported no history of a bite, or physical contact with any bat and had, in fact, never been into his attic. All of these scientific cases can be researched by those who are so inclined. The body of data is quite large and several excellent summaries and books are available to review, though they are beyond the scope of this narrative.
Furthermore, modern science has determined that rabies may not be uniformly lethal. A new medical treatment, known as the Milwaukee Protocol, has achieved an 8% survival rate over the past several years. By inducing a coma, doctors may have found a way to allow the body to survive rabies in some cases. However, neurological complications have been seen in most survivors, often with complex psychological effects.
Though debate certainly rages on these issues, and conventional wisdom suggests rabies to be a uniformly fatal disease only spread by direct contact, such as a bite, the questions posed by the evidence are profound. With modern genetic technology, researchers are able to effect change at the molecular level. If bat rabies does have latent tendencies for airborne transmission and survivability in rare cases, and if complex psychological damage can result in the survivors of this plague, then the ramifications are very troubling. Should a bioweapons lab or terrorist group genetically modify bat rabies by amplifying these potential latencies, an incredibly dangerous viral agent could result.
Scientists in Europe have already modified the H5N1 bird flu virus to make it much more contagious. The resulting strain was able to bind to the upper airway receptors instead of the lower airway receptors, as seen in the wild type. The resulting strain was incredibly contagious, but became nonlethal. While in a different group of viruses, bat rabies could easily be manipulated in the same way. Since scientists have already succeeded in changing flu virus lower respiratory to upper respiratory receptor binding site affinity, they would also be able to change bat rabies virus oropharyngeal binding site affinity to nasopharyngeal binding affinity, by using the same molecular methodology. This process would yield a fully airborne rabies.
The ramifications of these facts are stunning. Current genetic methodology could produce a plague that could be spread by bite or inhalation. The virus could spread like a common cold, infecting millions before it was even discovered. The victims would not necessarily die from the plague, yet could exhibit the shockingly violent effects of the rabies infection, attacking, biting, and infecting any mammal within range, all while also spreading the virus merely by breathing on new victims. The surviving victims would certainly exhibit some degree of severe neurological effects, as those seen in the survivors of the Milwaukee Protocol. The reality of the extreme danger inherent in such a possibility is mind-numbing.
Good science fiction should alway closely follow science, and the best should predict future science. While the likelihood of any of these events unfolding may be small during any given year, should these events transpire coincident to one another, the results would be catastrophic. Civilizations have crumbled over much lesser threats. I believe that if a topic is worth writing about, it should be firmly grounded in the science and reality of our world. I leave the reader ultimately to determine the validity of these issues and hope that each shall find a basis for careful reflection. God Bless you all.
Andrew B. Dill, M.D.