A Valentine's Day solar flare -- the largest since Dec. 5, 2006, and part of an expected upswing in the 11-year cycle of solar activity -- is cause for legitimate concern. But don't shoot Bruce Willis into space or bet the farm on solar-flare shields just yet.
Solar flares' charged particles crash into Earth's atmosphere 20 to 30 hours later. Resulting electromagnetic disruption affects radio, satellites, power grids and high-tech marvels such as GPS -- on which humanity depends far more today than during the last solar upswing about a decade ago.
Some scientists now warn of a potential $2 trillion "solar 'Katrina.'" The head of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told the Financial Times: "Predict and prepare should be the watchwords."
The strongest flare ever recorded wiped out much of Earth's then-new telegraph network in 1859, yet occurred during a "weak" cycle. So the threat can't be dismissed, despite NASA dubbing the Feb. 14 flare "rather weak." Whatever steps can be taken to minimize that threat should be taken.
Still, whatever countermeasures mankind can employ surely are puny compared to the forces that solar flares unleash. Yes, the sun does bear watching. But we must be prepared to understand that the limits of our defenses can be sobering.
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.