Threat of EMP offers real apocalypse panic scenario

"Starfish Prime." (Image courtesy of US Govt. Defense Threat Reduction Agency)

John Robson, Parliamentary Bureau

, Last Updated: 10:53 AM ET

If you are having trouble coping with the Mayan apocalypse no-show, relax. We face a genuine threat of staggering proportions, namely an Electro-Magnetic Pulse or EMP.

An EMP would take out the electric grid, our food distribution network, banking, possibly even cars. Most people realize the harm computer viruses can do to one bank or power plant. But a major EMP burst wouldn't just force us to reboot everything. It would require physical repair of hundreds of vital installations.

It could even happen naturally. The sun buffets Earth constantly with charged particles, but this "solar wind" varies greatly in intensity. And while it has damaged satellites and messed up radio signals recently, and a geomagnetic storm took down Quebec's electric grid in 1989, even the solar storm that blacked out radio throughout the U.S. in 1958 was not, scientist believe, nearly as potent as 1859's "Carrington Event". Anything on that scale would devastate today's chip-dependent world.


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