|Comet C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp), (Photo credit: Wikipedia).|
Although not expected to be harmful to humans, such an event could be extremely devastating to our electronic grid and could quite possibly send us back into a new Stone Age, says Eichler. As for predicting future sun-grazers? Most sun-grazing comets are too small to even make a ripple on the solar surface. A recent exception was Comet Lovejoy, a long period sun-grazing comet which in December 2011, was observed to unexpectedly survive its closest solar approach. Eichler says it’s quite possible that a very large comet could graze the sun once every several thousand years. “If the Hale-Bopp-sized comet grazed the solar corona,” said Eichler, “then you’d get a much bigger solar flare than the Carrington Event. Hale-Bopp itself may become sun-grazing in the [distant] future.” But there is one positive. Astronomers should, in principle, get a few years notice if such a large potential sun-grazing comet comes around again. However, with a few classified military exceptions, our electronics remain unprotected against such potential magnetospheric trauma, he says. Today, the Carrington Event itself would be devastating, says Eichler, and it wasn’t particularly powerful or all that unusual on an astrophysical timescale. After completing his research, Eichler says he is most surprised by the fact that we’re still here to tell the tale. “I didn’t realize the solar system was such a dangerous place,” said Eichler. “Just the fact that we’ve gone as long as we have without worse things happening may be why we’re here.” - Forbes.