Space.com posted a nice infographic providing an overview of solar flares. A solar flare is the massive release of energetic material from the Sun, usually originating from areas featuring high sunspot activity. Occasionally, the Sun will let loose an abnormally giant solar flare called a coronal mass ejection (CME).
Like solar flares on steroids, CMEs contain 1-10 billion tons of material traveling at over 1 million miles per hour, posing a major threat to electronic systems near Earth. In September 1859, a massive CME struck Earth and flooded the atmosphere with charged particles, causing auroras to illuminate the night sky over places like Cincinnati, Boston, and Australia. Also known as the Carrington Event, the Great Auroral Storm overpowered Earth’s telegraph transmission lines, knocking the service offline and causing equipment to send out streams of sparks. If such a storm were to strike Earth today, potential damage to infrastructure could be measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars (and that’s before taking into account the emotional stress of losing HBO Go).
While modern humans should not dismiss the threat posed by CMEs, we do enjoy some natural protections that help keep our beloved electronic devices safe. As shown in the infographic above, the Sun may eject material in any direction; this means in most cases CMEs will be moving away from Earth. If material is on a more direct course, Earth’s geomagnetic is able to soften the blow (with the resulting collisions being responsible for the enhanced auroras seen in the Carrington Event).
On a more proactive level, NASA and other agencies are deploying research tools to help further our understanding the cause of CMEs in order to generate better prediction models. The latest of these tools is Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which has been returning stunning images of the Sun since it has come online. As researchers gain a better understanding of how the Sun functions, they will be able to help design procedures that can shield our vital infrastructure when our nearest star misbehaves.
"On Wednesdays, we wear space suits."
Some amazing images of 5 “lost” underwater cities were featured as part of a photo series on the unfortunately-named site Earth Porm. The amount of facts that are about these subjects varies by the site. The “known” end of the spectrum is represented by China’s Lion City, which was submerged under Qiandao Lake as part of a hydro-electric project in 1959. On the other hand, there is a great deal of controversy regarding whether the Yonaguni Submarine Ruins of Japan are man-made structures or the result of natural processes of erosion. The history of the lion above falls somewhere in the middle. Taken from Alexandria, Egypt, the image depicts what is thought to be the ruins of the palace of Cleopatra, which is believed to have been sunk by an earthquake in 365 CE.
Stories of lost ancient cities have captured the popular imagination since Plato first wrote of Atlantis. While those theories vary wildly in quality, they should not be dismissed as nonsense. The climate of the Pleistocene Epoch is most widely known for the massive glaciers which covered up to 30% of the Earth’s surface and played a large role in shaping the geology of North America and Europe. With so much water was tied up in those glaciers, sea levels across the globe dropped by hundreds of feet, creating grassland out of what had previously been sea floor. Many students know of the Beringia land bridge between Asia and North America, however coastlines expanded throughout the world, particularly in Southeast Asia as shown above.
Coastal areas are attractive for settlement because they support close proximity to resources and trade; today 40% of the world’s population lives within 100 km of coastal regions. As modern humans began to form complex societies during the Pleistocene, it is likely that these exposed areas were appealing for both travel and settlement. The middle image above shows a carved pillar from a Pleistocene-era site located in Turkey called Gobekli Tepe.
After almost 20 years of excavation, researchers now believe that Gobekli Tepe had been used as a site for ceremonial purposes dating as far back as 10,000 BCE. The nearly 50 ft tall decorated pillars of Gobekli Tepe are firm evidence that humans had the ability to create large-scale structures far earlier than had previously been imagined. With that in mind, and with humanity’s tendency to settle in coastal areas, it is very possible that there are further ancient underwater cities yet to be discovered. If discovered, such sites would help provide priceless information about the earliest stages of human development, how those people lived, and what they believed in.