is midnight on 22 September 2012 and the skies above Manhattan are
filled with a flickering curtain of colourful light. Few New Yorkers
have seen the aurora this far south but their fascination is short-lived.
Within a few seconds, electric bulbs dim and flicker, then become
unusually bright for a fleeting moment. Then all the lights in the
state go out. Within 90 seconds, the entire eastern half of the
US is without power.
A year later
and millions of Americans are dead and the nation’s infrastructure
lies in tatters. The World Bank declares America a developing nation.
Europe, Scandinavia, China and Japan are also struggling to recover
from the same fateful event – a violent storm, 150 million kilometres
away on the surface of the sun.
It sounds ridiculous.
Surely the sun couldn’t create so profound a disaster on Earth.
Yet an extraordinary report funded by NASA and issued by the US
National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in January this year claims it
could do just that.
Over the last
few decades, western civilisations have busily sown the seeds of
their own destruction. Our modern way of life, with its reliance
on technology, has unwittingly exposed us to an extraordinary danger:
plasma balls spewed from the surface of the sun could wipe out our
power grids, with catastrophic consequences.