How to survive a coronal mass ejection

Since I'm writing a science fiction story about this, I thought I'd share a bit of fun information with you.

There are a few basic methods for surviving a cornonal mass ejection (CME). Survival Method 1:

1) Hope that it is small enough that it won't strip away Earth's atmosphere.

Earth's magnetic field protects us from the normal solar wind (a stream of charged particles), but it gets compressed when hit by a CME. The bigger the CME, the greater the damage. Under the magnetic field, our atmosphere protects us from UV radiation, X-rays, gamma radiation and cosmic radiation. However, during periods of high sunspot activity, our atmosphere is actually thinned and partly stripped away by the increased charged particles hitting our little blue-white ball.

If the CME is big enough to be a planet-killer, go on to Survival Method 2:

2) Hope that it doesn't hit the Earth.

The sun is big. Space is big. The sun is far away. Only a small dot of space is taken up by the Earth. Most CMEs never come close to us. However, even the thin edge of a really big one can blow the sensors off a satellite pointed in that direction. In 2003, the Halloween Solar Storm of Oct 17 - Nov 5 showed CMEs that were millions of times bigger than normal flares and CMEs.

If a solar eruption similar to the 2003 event had hit Earth, we would have had to go on to Survival Method 3:

3) There is no Survival Method 3.

A view of the 2003 CME under ultraviolet light coming from gas at a temperature of 2,700,000 degrees F (1,500,000 K)

Another view of the 2003 CME event, in near-IR:

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. Add this, perhaps, to the list of reasons why nobody "out there" has contacted us yet. They got clobbered by their own sun before they can get a message out.

  2. Love, love, love your research. This is why science fiction rocks. When the author actually knows what they are taking about it's like you learn while you enjoy their story.

    Bravo. Can't wait to read it ;)


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