Health Effects of a CME (Coronal Mass Ejection)

Are These Events A Threat To You?

On September 1, 1859, a solar explosion of epic magnitude hurled a giant cloud of ionized plasma towards Earth. When it entered our planet’s atmosphere, beginning the next day, the eruption (something we now call a “coronal mass ejection” or CME) sparked magnificent auroras—visible as far south as Cuba and Hawaii—and shorted out most of the world’s telegraph stations, causing global communication to cease.
The 1889 event was an unusually intense example of something that happens with regularity.

Should you be concerned?

Move forward almost 130 years to March 13, 1989. The telegraph has given way to radio communications, and the world is largely dependent upon electricity. Another solar flare occurs—and another CME heads towards Earth.
While much smaller than the 1859 event, the ejected cloud interacts with a more technologically centered Earth. Short-wave radio signals are jammed, spectacular auras are witnessed in far-southern latitudes, electrical power grids in the United States experience a significant drop in available wattage, a number of orbiting space satellites tumble out of control and the entire province of Quebec goes into electrical blackout.

We aren’t talking about science fiction. These events really happened.

The largest measured flare on record occurred in November of 2003, yet it caused slight damage. Why? The impact of a particular flare to our planet depends not just on the magnitude of the eruption, but on other factors as well, things like the direction the CME takes when it leaves the sun (many miss us entirely), the density and type of electromagnetic particles it contains, the polar alignment of those particles and the angle of interaction between the CME and Earth.
Given the best (or worst) conditions, though, it is possible that a CME could wreak havoc on today’s global communications and power grids—and since so much is dependent upon those systems, it could shut down life as we know it for weeks or months.

What about your body? Is it affected?
Do CME’s affect you physically?
Medical scientists are not in consensus about this (or many other matters). What we do know is that solar flares are accompanied by increased radiation—and radiation can be harmful.
Furthermore, we know that nutritional deficiencies increase the negative impact of radiation—that is why NASA provides astronauts (who are more susceptible to cosmic radiation) with vitamin supplements high in antioxidants.
Whether an emergency arises from CME or other disaster, though, some things just make sense.

  • You should maintain a stockpile of food and water at home to get you through until power and water are restored. Grocery stores will empty quickly in the event of widespread emergency.
  • You should keep a battery-powered or solar-powered radio on hand so you can listen to local news reports as they become available.
  • And you should heed the advice your mother gave you years ago: Take your vitamins and minerals daily.

Natural disasters have and will happen—and no part of the planet is immune from them. You may not be able to avoid being affected by them, but you can potentially diminish the disruption by planning ahead and being prepared.

Thank you to health and survival writer Casey Windsong for this article. Casey lives and works near Yellowstone National Park and the Teton Mountain Range, in the wild, wild West.

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