Two scientists from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Manasvi Lingam and Avi Loeb, have suggested building a massive shield around the Earth in order to prevent our planet from the possible disasters of coronal mass ejection (CME). Coronal mass ejection is a release of charged particles from the Sun which upon reaching the Earth create very powerful electrical currents in the Earth’s atmosphere.
These electrical currents are caused by the slow-moving magnetized plasma making up the coronal mass ejections. The last big coronal mass ejection that hit the Earth happened in 1859. At that time, our planet was fairly new to electricity use and communication systems using waves. Even then the telegraph system pylons threw sparks and shocked operators. The young communication system went haywire, with telegraph systems in North America and Europe failing to work. In some places, this system even caught fire.
Even though, back then, our dependency on electricity and communication systems using waves wasn’t as much as it is now, the effects of the coronal mass ejection still created lots of trouble. If such an event happens now, when almost everything in our life is dependent on electricity, it would be a sure disaster. It is to avert this disaster proactively that Lingam and Loeb have suggested making a protective shield around our planet in order to save us should such an event happens again.
If such an event happened now, there would be no electricity meaning there would be no internet, no means of communication, no heating or cooling inside our buildings, no schools, and the equipment in hospitals and offices would become useless. Aeroplanes and ships using GPS systems would not be able to use them for navigation and would have to operate manually.
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Such an event wouldn’t just greatly affect our lives, it would also cause massive losses in terms of the economy. Lingam and Loeb believe these losses could amount to about $20 trillion because as our dependency on technology increases, the potential losses also increase manifold.
Although according to research, there is only a 12% chance of such an event happening in the next decade, a flare did narrowly miss the Earth in 2012. Had that flare hit us, a storm like the one in 1859 would have sent us into catastrophic consequences. Thus, these scientists have suggested a shield in space to protect the Earth.
Although this shield sounds bizarre and impossible, Lingam and Loeb believe it is most plausible if we look at the engineering side of it. They have suggested that a one-centimeter wide loop of copper wire surrounding the Earth, powered by a solar farm, would effectively get the work done. The gargantuan cost of such a project is another story altogether.
But according to Loeb, it would be well worth it. He states, “The cost for lifting the needed infrastructure to space (weighing 100,000 tons) will likely cost hundreds of billions of dollars, much less than the expected [solar storm] damage over a century.”
All that said, building an Earth-sized shield is no child’s play. It would take decades to build in space. The protective shield as proposed by the scientists will actually be a magnetic field around the Earth which would prevent the charged particles from the Sun from reaching the Earth.
As we are getting more and more technology dependent, this protective shield’s benefits outweigh the cost of its installation. And this cost is way less than the cost we would have to bear for many years if such an event does happen. We would not be able to recover from such an event very soon. Therefore, it is being considered seriously. The coming years will reveal if this massive project actually does become a reality or not.