Some of the heaviest space weather in over a hundred years is heading our way. Luckily this week there will be a Electric Infrastructure Security Summit this week in Washington. Authorities on EMP will participate, including: members of Congress, nuclear physicists and execute branch officials, and utility industry representatives. Hopefully this will increase public awareness and readiness of the real threat that EMPs pose.
EMP causing solar flares sound like something out of a science fiction novel, but in April the largest solar flare of the year was recorded. A brief radio blackout occurred. Instances like these raise alarm because our nation is still unprotected from the debilitating effects of an EMP. The following link is to an article continuing this discussion on The Heritage Network.
Michael Faraday is famous for his contributions to science, particularly in the field of electromagnetism. Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction and incorporated it into his dynamo. Up until his day, people were aware of the existence of electricity, in the form of lightning and other static charges, but were unable to really study it, or produce it at all. The dynamo allowed for the controlled production of electricity, and is the basis for all modern electric generators.
Another contribution to science is the Faraday cage, which is designed to protect their contents from electromagnetic radiation. Faraday cages are used for protecting electronics, which are generally sensitive to outside electrical stimulation. Although these protective devices might seem necessarily complicated and high-tech, they are deceptively simple.
Static electricity, which is what Faraday cages protect best against, work by channeling the current through themselves, so that it never reaches the objects inside. Electricity will always take the path of least resistance, and Faraday cages are made with highly conductive material, usually in the form of mesh. Solid materials work as well, but are unnecessary, and are harder to work with.
You might wonder what all this has to do with Tech Protect. Tech Protect’s bags are essentially portable, flexible Faraday cages, designed to protect your electronic devices from static. They are made to the highest military standards, and feature alternating layers of insulators and conductors for the best in protection. As you can see from our demonstration videos, a cell phone placed in a microwave oven inside a Tech Protect Faraday bag is unaffected by the radiation produced by the magnetron (although the bag itself might be badly burned).
Why do you need a Tech Protect bag? This year, according to NASA, is forecast to be one of unusually high solar radiation. The sun, in addition to visible light, produces a wide array of invisible radiation. This radiation outside the visible spectrum has a variety of effects. Some of it hits the magnetosphere (the earth’s personal Faraday cage) to produce the Northern and Southern lights. Some of this radiation causes cancer. Since sun is a constantly changing ball of boiling plasma, there are fluctuations in the amount of the radiation it produces. Higher than average amounts can sometimes knock out power or disable electronic devices. With 2013 being a more active period of radiation, a Faraday bag from Tech Protect could be a prudent option for protecting your valuable electronics.
According to NASA, solar storms are not uncommon. The sun goes through cycles of calm and high activity, usually lasting a few years or decades. The past decade or so have seen a lower than normal level of solar electromagnetic activity. This relative lull has coincided with a vast increase in electronic devices.
While electronics have certainly been commonplace since well before the 1990s and 2000s, the last 10 or 20 years have seen an explosion of electronic devices. Today, virtually every person has a cell phone, and many have smart phones. Smart phones are equivalent in computing power to computers that would have filled an entire desk 15 years ago, or an entire room 40 years ago. Most people have become at least somewhat dependent on their electronic devices including smartphones and computers, and would be greatly inconvenienced by their demise.
Most people know that electronic devices can be damaged by abnormal electric impulses or magnetic activity. For example, a hard drive can be damaged by magnets placed near it, since it uses magnets to move and read the drive. Other examples include transistors. These simple electronic components are very physically durable, able to withstand very high or low temperatures, and can be submerged in water and boiled and can often survive great crushing force. However, if electric current is run through a transistor backwards, it will be ruined.
Electronic devices are essentially huge arrays of transistors (among other things), and so are understandably sensitive. This is why a cell phone, when dropped into water will often not die unless it is turned one while wet. Simply wetting the components doesn’t necessarily destroy them nearly as effectively as shorting current across them. When a phone is on, the water can act as a conductor, and ruin components.
Outside radiation and static electricity is just as damaging to electronic devices. Shields for large devices involve metal boxes or cages which conduct electricity. Although it would seem that an insulator would protect electronics better than a conductor, these cages, known as Faraday cages, work somewhat counter-intuitively.
Electromagnetic radiation will sometimes penetrate an insulator, or burn it. For example, imagine an airplane being struck by lightning. An airplane is a very large example of a Faraday cage, and the vast majority of airplanes are made of aluminum or other conductive materials. When lightning strikes the plane, the current is conducted by the outer skin, away from the occupants inside. The electricity usually has an entry point and an exit point, which might be burned a little, but the rest of the plane is usually unharmed. However, if the plane were an insulator, such as wood or plastic, the current would not be conducted to the skin, and would likely pass directly through the interior, killing the occupants. Also, high voltage current would probably burn an insulator much more extensively than it would a conductor.
Tech Protect Faraday cage bags are designed with alternating layers of insulator and conductor. These layers are designed to keep electromagnetic radiation in the surface of the bag, and protect the contents within.
The sun is an average-sized star. It’s about 4.5 billion years old, and has about 4.5 billion years to go until it completes the process of converting hydrogen into helium via nuclear fusion. At this point, stars can go one of several ways. If it is less than 0.4 times the mass of the sun, a star will collapse gently, and simply cool and shrink, to eventually become a red dwarf. Because there is no drastic change in chemical processes, these small stars can last a very long time, and “burn” slowly long after they cease to be visible, much like embers in a campfire that has died down.
But if larger than 0.4 times the mass of the sun, the helium core of the star will begin to collapse as the hydrogen mantle cools and expands into space. This results in a drastic drop in temperature and density but increase in physical size. The star at this point is considered a red giant. The collapsing helium core heats up, due to pressure from gravity, and then begins fusing to carbon. Hydrogen fusion to helium also begins again in a shell around the core. During this time, the star will have expanded up to 250 times its original diameter. This would put the surface of the sun near where the orbit of the earth is now. However, due to the decreased density and mass of the sun, the earth will recede away, to a higher orbit. It is still unclear at this point whether the earth will be engulfed by the sun before the gravity of the sun diminishes enough to allow the earth to escape to a higher orbit.
However, even if the earth does escape to a higher orbit before the sun becomes a red giant, the increased radiation would still vaporize all water and other liquids and blow the atmosphere into space. If the star is much larger than our sun, the next stage is fusion to heavier elements – carbon, sodium neon, oxygen, silicon, and finally, iron. Iron does not fuse without a net loss of energy, so once the star has reached this stage, fusion stops. In relatively small stars (about twice as large as the sun), the core cools, and the outer layers of the star are dispersed as a nebula. The core becomes a white dwarf, which eventually cools to a black dwarf.
If the star is very large, iron fusion continues until the iron core cannot support its own weight. Instead of fusing, it undergoes a sudden collapse, which results in a reverse beta decay explosion as electrons and protons collide. This explosion, known as a supernova, flings most of the matter out violently in a sudden burst of energy that briefly shines brighter than an entire galaxy.
In 2013 the sun will begin producing higher than normal amounts of electromagnetic radiation. While the levels of electromagnetic radiation fluctuate constantly, 2013 is likely to be particularly severe. Electromagnetic rays range from radio waves on one extreme to gamma rays on the other. Visible light falls near the middle. Since only such a small part of the spectrum is visible to humans, we often erroneously assume that x-rays, ultraviolet light, microwaves visible light, and other forms of radiation are different kinds of phenomena. Really, all of these are very similar, with a difference of size or degree and not kind. For example, it’s sometimes easier to think of microwaves, gamma rays and other radiation as invisible light. Ultraviolet light acknowledges this fact in name: we can’t see it (but bees and other creatures can), but if we could, it would be just past violet on the color spectrum.
The sun produces radiation across the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Visible light, and infrared radiation (noticed as heat), are the two most obvious, but are not the most significant for electronic devices. Cell phones, computers and other electronics are most sensitive to radiation outside the visible spectrum. While light and heat are generally constant, invisible radiation tends to fluctuate a lot more.
Sun spots and solar flares are visible evidence of these invisible fluctuations of electromagnetic energy. A sun spot is an area of the sun’s boiling, churning surface that magnetic fields have somewhat “paralyzed” or “paused”. Because the churning slows down, hot matter from the core of the sun cannot come to the surface as well in that area, and the vacuum of space cools it to a darker color, which we see as sun spots. Solar flares are related phenomena, and occur when visible matter from the sun follows the path of a magnetic field arc that loops up from the surface. Drop a strong magnet into a dish of paper clips or iron filings, and a similar effect can be seen, except with the sun the medium for the patterns is superheated plasma instead of metal particles.
What does this mean for earth? Solar flares and sunspots create increased electromagnetic output towards earth, radiation that can impact electronic devices. Large, permanent devices are often protected by excessive radiation or electrical charges by a faraday cage. This is a metal mesh, often as simple as a seamless chain-link fence, that protects the contents within by diverting current through its highly conductive surface.
Faraday bags, which protect against electromagnetic pulses, such as what the sun produces, are designed a little differently. Tech Protect’s bags laminate alternating conductors and insulators in an aim to divert against a wide range of charges. There can be no guarantee that electronics placed inside the bag will be fully protected from harm, because of the unknowns involved with the forecast 2013 solar storm. However, it is quite likely that a faraday bag provides more protection than nothing. Alternatively, electronics owners might try wrapping their devices in alternating layers of saran wrap and aluminum foil, but this is somewhat suspect, and highly inconvenient for accessing the device.
Electronic devices form the backbone of modern society – without them, the daily lives of Americans would be vastly different. The fact that you’re reading this now is proof that you use electronic devices such as a computer or a phone and the internet, at least sporadically. Most electronic devices have a narrow range of electric voltage and amperage under which they can continue to function normally. Even high temperatures or water damage does not damage electronic circuitry as effectively as improper current at the wrong time or in the wrong direction.
Because of this, devices are clearly labeled, and surge protectors are used to prevent a sudden spike in power from destroying valuable devices and irreplaceable data. Most people know that saving work is important, as is having a backup of any hard drives or files. The “cloud” has become a popular place to store data, as it is virtually impervious to any mechanical or other failure short of a global apocalypse (and even that would not destroy all of it). The “cloud” is simply the sum total of electronic storage represented by and accessed through the internet. While the files are technically physically on a server somewhere, usually the server is backed up in more than one physical location, often separated by hundreds of miles.
This means, that by using the appropriate online resources, data and any non-physical files can be protected nearly imperviously to any threat. However, at this point the weak link in the chain becomes the physical device itself.
In 2013, the sun is likely to produce a higher than average amount of electromagnetic radiation. This means that any device that is normally affected by static may be damaged. Faraday cages will protect large devices such as power plants or scientific instrumentation, but the average everyday user of cell phones and personal computers does not generally plan for such events. While rare, there have been a few recorded cases of electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) in the fairly recent past. The most significant was in the 1800s, and destroyed much of the nation’s telegraph service, which was in the process of getting off the ground. Another significant EMP event was in the 1980s, and knocked out some hydroelectric power grids in Quebec.
The 2013 EMP event is likely to be as the EMP in the 1800s, but the implications will be far more widely-reaching. The amount of technology today that depends on electric circuitry is much more vast now, and greater protection is needed.
Tech Protect EMP protection bags are designed to withstand a solar electronic pulse. We make no guarantees that your device will be safe (since it is impossible to be certain of the intensity of the pulse), but do guarantee that the bags are made to the highest military standards. The bags feature layers of insulator and conductor, which tend to diffuse static electricity. You could protect the device yourself by wrapping it in several layers of aluminum foil and heavy-duty plastic, but the hassle created by such a process is something most people are not willing to undergo. Tech Protect bags are designed to provide the maximum in protection while retaining convenient access to your devices.
Solar storms are relatively common, and produce an above average level of electromagnetic radiation. While the sun is constantly producing radiation, both visible and otherwise, the damaging effects of this are generally repelled by the magnetosphere, protective magnetic field of the earth. Of course, light, and other radiation certainly gets through, which is why daytime has light, and sun burn is possible, and the auroras light up high-latitude night skies. But, the effect is much less than it would be otherwise.
A solar storm happens when sunspots and flares produce a pulse of electromagnetic energy. If this pulse hits an electronic device, the device can fail. Examples of this exist in both fiction and reality. Fictional examples include the weaponized EMPs used in the film, The Matrix. Real examples include a surge in a power main (which is the reason for a surge protector), or potential EMP warheads that deliver an aerial pulse to disable an enemy’s electronics.
The sun is not a static producer of light and heat. Instead, it is boiling and churning at all times, and is interlaced with magnetic fields that curtail or amplify some of this churning. Sunspots, which are a visual indication of higher-than-normal level of magnetic activity, generally appear and disappear in a cycle, often lasting a decade or two. Very high levels of sunspots can potentially affect electronics on earth. This is considered potential, because the last few decades have been abnormally low in terms of sunspot activity. Of course, the last 20 years have also seen an explosion in electronics, and the mainstream use of the internet.
The most major electromagnetic pulse (EMP) event took place in 1859, and is referred to as either the solar storm of 1859 or the Carrington Event (after Richard Carrington, who observed and recorded it). During this storm, the northern and southern lights or auroras, were visible throughout the world, even near the equator. While electronics were not widely used or needed by most people, telegraph systems were knocked out of commission.
A similar storm happened in 1989. This storm, known as the geomagnetic storm of 1989 was not as severe as the Carrington event. However, because it happened at a time when there were more devices that relied on electricity and electronics, it had a more pervasive impact. The Quebec hydroelectric power grid was knocked out, due to the insulatory effect of the rock around the area.
In 2013, a solar storm is likely. By all calculations, it will have the strongest electromagnetic pulse since the Carrington event. Furthermore, because of the extensive electronic infrastructure in place throughout the globe today, even when compared to 1989, this EMP event has the potential to have an incredibly significant impact. It will likely affect cell phones, computers and many other personal devices as well as national and government resources.
Tech Protect’s EMP bags are designed to prevent against damage. Although no guarantee of device safety is possible, due to the unknowns present with regard to the EMP strength, Tech Protect does create protective devices at the highest standards possible.
Many people assume that the sun is a fire or a nuclear bomb going off continuously. It has parallels with both of these things, but stars such as the sun are not really directly comparable to any fire or bomb on earth, given their size and nature of reaction. The sun is most accurately described as a ball of plasma. Plasma is a state of matter that most people forget about. The familiar states of matter – solid, liquid and gas, are encountered daily, and can be easily demonstrated in a kitchen, as water is easily converted between these stages in the form of ice, liquid water, and steam or clouds. To convert between these, a change in temperature or pressure is all that is needed.
However, to convert to plasma, ionization is necessary. This involves adding or stripping electrons from the matter, giving it an electrical charge. As a ball of plasma, the sun is essentially made entirely from charged particles, although the balance of positively and negatively charged particles is about even. The sun, like all stars, is interwoven throughout with magnetic fields. It is in stars like the sun that the relationships between electricity, magnetism, heat, gravity and nuclear reactions can be seen.
While everyone is familiar with the heat and light produced by the sun, many are not as familiar with the incredibly high electromagnetic output. Visible light is only one small part of the range of electromagnetic radiation, but humans tend to consider visible light and invisible radiation such as x-rays as completely different. However, from a technical standpoint, the differences between visible light and invisible electromagnetic radiation are only degree and not kind (like the difference between blue light and red light). The sun produces essentially the full range of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Much of the sun’s electromagnetic radiation is strongly associated with sunspots and solar flares. A sunspot is an area on the surface of the sun that has a higher than normal level of magnetic activity. The sun is constantly churning like a boiling pot of soup, which continuously brings hot matter from the core (about 15 million degrees) to the relatively cooler surface (about 5500 degrees Celsius). But magnetic fields in sunspots can tend to “freeze” or slow the churning, which allows that part of the sun (which is exposed to the vacuum of space) to cool off even more (to about 2700-4200 degrees Celsius). These cooler areas appear darker in comparison to the rest of the sun.
The strong magnetic activity that causes sunspots also causes solar flares. Flares appear as huge loops of fire that arc up and away from the surface of the sun. In fact, they are not fire but magnetized plasma following loops of magnetic fields. To get an ideal of how this happens, place a pile of metal shavings on a table, and a magnet under the table, directly beneath the shavings. The shavings will follow the magnetic field and create patterns, just like the magnetic fields on the sun do (except that the sun does this with superheated plasma instead of metal shavings.
While the sun is over 90 million miles away, the effects of the magnetic activity of sunspots and flares can sometimes be felt on earth. Usually people do not detect the magnetism directly, but notice it in the effect it has on personal electronic devices. Cell phones, laptop computers, tablets and other devices are sensitive to electromagnetic activity and can be damaged by unusually high levels.
Tech Protect bags are designed to shield objects within them from electromagnetic radiation. They work as miniature faraday cages, and protect sensitive electronics just like a larger faraday cage protects a laboratory or power station.