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What would be the first things to catch on fire during a CME?


LaGz
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Just out of curiosity, if a CME was to occur. What would be the first the things to catch fire (if anything would)? Let's say in an average household, just to limit the possibilities. Also, why would they catch on fire?

Thanks,

LaGz

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What is a CME?  The first time you use a TLA in a post you should define it, just for the benefit of those who may not be familiar with the TLA.

 

 

(TLA:  Three Letter Acronym)

Edited by OldChemE
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For a CME to create a large enough electrostatic discharge, that would in turn start a fire, either your household would have to be close to one of the poles and/or the CME event would have to be near Carrington Event (http://cmeresearchinstitute.org/carrington-event/) size. We are fairly protected with our magnetosphere against the normal course of CMEs we see regurgitated by the sun. However, once in a great while, the sun emits a large enough CME that it would penetrate the Earth's magnetosphere (especially closer to the poles) where along conductive materials (i.e. electrical lines) electrostatic discharges would be created. This is why our electrical grid would be in peril, as the many miles of electrical lines would collect and concentrate these charges, causing overloading (and fires) at minor and major transformers.

Presumably, the most likely candidate to catch fire inside a home would be one of your appliances, which would now receive too high of a jolt from the incoming electrical line. I would guess a toaster or microwave would be the first item to be set ablaze, since they are among the top five of appliances inciting house fires, when an apocalyptic CME is not involved.

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The CME would need a long conductive path like a long heavy gage electrical transmission wire.  Nobody knows the exact critical requirements.  The historical record shows subjective written accounts of telegraph wires arching and heating.   The length of the iron uncoated wire typically used in that era, (1855) varied with the accounts of the observed affect.

Storage batteries used in that time to power the telegraphs also were affected with some absorbing enough wattage from the CME through long leads of the aforementioned iron wire that they overheated, boiled and in some cases ruptured their glass containers with lots of arching and sparking.  Probably smelled also.  Enough wattage was conducted to trip closed keys.

Today?  Probably the long high tension electrical transmission lines.  Regional shorter distribution power lines.  Possibly short residential power lines.  Inside a house?  Probably nothing?  Not enough conduction area.  But some electronics might absorb enough energy to be affected.  Consider it like a slow ongoing lightning strike.  Nasty.  Big commercial transformers may blow.

Thus the concern of another Carrington event.  If the CME can find a long enough conductor and there are many paths, such energy pushed into electrical transformers will cause burn outs with total failure.  Such electrical grid power outages may last for many months, depending upon the location, intensity, grid type and transformer installations.  In a home?  Probably not much.

But a big CMP would set back western civilization many years.  Transportation and communications would be severely damaged.  Everything today runs on diesel fuel and the micro chip.  A Carrington Event today would probably kill over 75% of the worlds population over a period of years.  Famine.  Wars.  Disease, Pestilence.  Biblical stuff.  I am not religious.  Yikes!

 

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