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Scientists: Killer solar EMP blast just missed Earth, 10 years of devastation avoided

This Image captured on July 23, 2012, at 12:24 a.m. EDT, shows a coronal mass ejection that left the sun at the unusually fast speeds of over 1,800 miles per second. (Image credit: NASA/STEREO)

Confirmed: Two prominent physicists reveal in a new report that enormous solar blasts with an electromagnetic pulse powerful enough to cause $2.6 trillion in damage and knock out electricity and communications for up to 10 years narrowly missed Earth in 2012.

The scientists from the University of California, Berkeley and China’s State Key Laboratory of Space Weather in their report published in the journal Nature Communications said it would have equaled the famous 1859 “Carrington event,” the world’s worst, that melted telegraph lines.

"Had it hit Earth, it probably would have been like the big one in 1859, but the effect today, with our modern technologies, would have been tremendous," said Berkeley research physicist Janet G. Luhmann. She wrote the report with former Berkeley postdoctoral fellow and research physicist Ying D. Liu, now at the China lab.

A statement from the school said that the duo's report analyzed the magnetic storm detected by NASA's STEREO A spacecraft.

EMP attacks have become a huge concern around the nation, with several state governments, led by Maine, moving to protect electric grids and transformers from a solar attack. In addition, a former CIA director has aired concerns that Iran or North Korea could launch an EMP attack over the East Coast with a nuclear blast in the atmosphere.

“An extreme space weather storm — a solar superstorm — is a low-probability, high-consequence event that poses severe threats to critical infrastructures of the modern society,” said Liu. “The cost of an extreme space weather event, if it hits Earth, could reach trillions of dollars with a potential recovery time of 4-10 years. Therefore, it is paramount to the security and economic interest of the modern society to understand solar superstorms.”

According to their report, supported by NASA, a huge outburst that occurred on the Sun on July 22, 2012, “propelled a magnetic cloud through the solar wind at a peak speed of more than 2,000 kilometers per second, four times the typical speed of a magnetic storm. It tore through Earth’s orbit but, luckily, Earth and the other planets were on the other side of the sun at the time. Any planets in the line of sight would have suffered severe magnetic storms as the magnetic field of the outburst tangled with the planets’ own magnetic fields.”

They found that the outburst was the result of "at least two nearly simultaneous coronal mass ejections."

“The authors believe this extreme event was due to the interaction of two CMEs separated by only 10 to 15 minutes,” said Joe Gurman, the project scientist for STEREO at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., in the statement.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.