The solar storm of 2012 that almost sent us back to a post-apocalyptic Stone Age. While you didn’t see it, feel it, or even read about it in the newspapers, Earth was almost knocked back to the Stone Age on July 23, 2012. It wasn’t some crazed dictator with his finger on the thermonuclear button or a giant asteroid that came close to wiping out civilization as we know it, though — no, what nearly ended us was a massive solar storm. Almost two years ago to the day, our most bounteous and fantastical celestial body — the Sun — kicked out one of the largest solar flares and coronal mass ejections ever recorded. And it missed Earth by a whisker. “If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces,” says Daniel Baker, who led the research into the massive solar storm.
A solar storm is a generic term for increased activity in the Sun. In this case, the solar storm of July 2012 consisted of a massive solar flare, followed by a colossal coronal mass ejection (CME). A solar flare is initiated by the sudden release of energy stored in the Sun’s corona, causing the Sun’s plasma to heat up to tens of millions of degrees, accelerating and kicking out all sorts of radiation, and often creating a solar prominence or filament (eruption). In a large solar storm, the same energy from the corona can also cause a coronal mass ejection — a much slower-moving billion-ton cloud of plasma (electrons and protons).
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