Newt Gingrich is like the sun in this respect: if an entity belches heat and light and energy on all frequencies in all directions all the time, every once in a while it’s going to hit something. At 1:00 am tomorrow, Saturday July 14, a coronal mass ejection from the sun capable of shutting down life on earth as we know it will miss our home planet, not by much. Coincidentally, the Washington Post this morning contains an essay by Mr. Gingrich on the danger of such an event, a rare direct hit by a man who has frequent cerebral mass ejections.
First, the serious stuff: A massive sunspot, its diameter 11 times that of earth, has wheeled into view on the surface of the sun. This is the rough equivalent of a drunken stranger coming into the dance hall, waving .45 pistols around threateningly, until one of the muzzles is pointing straight at you. Makes you want to pay attention.
Sunspots seem to be the source of two kinds of emission. Solar flares, which can interfere with our radio communications, and coronal mass ejections, which can end our way of life. [For a more complete explanation of the perils, see Apocalypse Any Minute: The Sun Storm Scenario and Solar Storm Warning].
Yesterday, the sunspot in question belched a solar flare in our direction. It messed up high frequency radio communications on the sunny side of the earth for a few hours. It also burped a coronal mass ejection, which will give the earth only a glancing blow tomorrow. Interestingly, NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center did not know exactly what had happened on the sun because one of the three satellites that maintain unblinking vigil on our favorite star, um, blinked. It was “on maneuvers” when the event occurred. If this had been a civilization-ending event we would have been deprived of 30 minutes or so of prep time.
Now to Newt. Apparently discomfited by the recent storm-caused power outages in Northern Virginia where he lives, the Speaker was moved to speak (in a column for the Washington Post) about the possibility that an electromagnetic pulse (from a solar CME or, alternatively, the explosion of a nuclear device) could take out the grid for years. His piece, which begins with the touching words, “Callista and I…” does a pretty good job of reviewing the fundamentals and painting a picture of the aftermath of an EMP.
Ever the politician, he coats with a bit of sugar:
“Consider what state all of us, from the richest to the poorest, would be in if we were still literally in the dark. Millions could be trapped in houses or apartments that were never designed for this climate without air conditioning. No cool air; months with no food shipments and every pharmacy shut down — no refills for life-sustaining medications.”
Interestingly, his litany of loss begins with lights and air conditioning. Please rest assured, you will not be required to endure months with “no food shipments.” You will be dead in weeks. Days, unless you have a supply of water someplace. How would you buy a bottle of water, Newt asks, with all the ATMs down? The man knows what suffering is.
It is a good thing that this man, who has become a legend in his own mind, has left off designing his moon colony to warn us that we need to protect our electrical grid. Remember that when all those clocks have been stopped by an EMP, they will still be right twice a day.
[Wait, there’s more. For an update on this story see the Editor’s Log.]