fbpx Skip to content

Professor Quippy: When the sun goes to "eleven"

Professor Quippy and solar flareScientists have discovered that on September 1, 1859, a massive flare from the sun sent out gi-normous (really, really large) quantities of high-energy protons. When the magnetic storm struck Earth, Jeremy Bentfudder, a telegraph operator in Skeekonk, Massachusetts, was reasonably alarmed when a jet of flame issued from his apparatus, setting his expensive trousers on fire, and reputedly leading to the children’s taunt: “liar liar pants on fire, hang them up on a telegraph wire”. (Obviously changed to “telephone” wire, with the advent and ubiquity of the new technology.)

If we can put the etymology of derisive childhood sayings aside for the moment, the “superflare”, as scientists are calling it, also stripped a massive (almost gi-normous) amount of ozone from the Earth’s atmosphere. Researchers say it depleted the ozone by as much as five percent. (Currently, we have managed to deplete the ozone by about three percent, mostly because certain individuals continue to use spray-on deodorant — you know who you are!)

The scientists say that if a similar flare happened today, it would be “bad”. This is because our ozone layer is already a bit depressed — what with all the chlorofluorocarbon taunting we have done of it (you know who you are!) How do they define “bad”?

Well, one researcher said, “can you buy sun screen with an SPF of 150?”

New Scientist story here