Rich Galen

• Yesterday was the Summer Solstice. The sun was as high in the sky as it gets in the Northern Hemisphere. Thus today’s topic.

• Buried in paragraph 12 of a story about solar flares, which itself was buried on page F1 (Health & Science) of yesterday’s Washington Post was this tidbit of what might be considered useful information from a report by the National Academy of Sciences on what a major solar flare might mean to the inhabitants of certain portions of the U.S. of A.:

“A 1859-level storm could knock out power to parts of the northeastern and northwestern United States for months or even years.

“135 million Americans would be forced to revert to a pre-electric lifestyle or relocate. Water systems would fail Food would spoil. Thousands could die. The financial cost could be up to $2 trillion, one-seventh of the U.S. gross domestic product.”

• I like the fact that writer Brian Vastag put that “thousands would die” thing in the middle of his list of really bad outcomes.

• This isn’t just some pie-in-the-sky idle chatter. Just a couple of weeks ago there was a major burst of solar energy that missed the Earth but was significant enough to cause scientists who track these things to head into the office early and fire up the computers to see what was what.

• In fact, yesterday morning – just hours before the official beginning of summer – according to MSNBC:

“A solar storm triggered a massive eruption of plasma, known as a coronal mass ejection.”

• I know the term “coronal mass ejection” sounds suspiciously like the beginning of an Anthony Weiner joke, but quit thinking like Beavis and Butthead. Again, according to MSNBC: “Coronal mass ejections are massive eruptions of charged particles and solar material from the sun's surface.”

• That 1859 solar storm hit about 20 minutes after the telegraph had been invented, but there were enough wires and stations so that the wires attracted the charged particles and telegraph equipment burst into flame.

• Imagine what would happen to that new high-tech one-cup-at-a-time coffee maker up there on the fourth floor.

• Not having access to Starbucks for three months might be just about enough to do you in if one or more of these consequences from the Washington Post piece, of an 1859-level storm don’t:

-- Communications satellites will be knocked offline.

Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at

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