I am envisioning an apocalypse scenario where a majority of vehicles and electronics are disabled and a vast majority of Grid infrastructure is destroyed. The Carrington Event in the 1800s produced massive E3 geomagnetic disturbances that caused a lot of damage to existing communications infrastructure and caused brilliant auroras across a huge swathe of latitudes. I've read that CMEs can cause E3 type EMP creating DC issues with larger electrical systems, as long wires act as antennas and can damage transformers, etc. Similar to the Quebec power outage when a transformer was destroyed, I am envisioning a scenario where a massive X-30+ solar flare immediately precedes an equally large CME. CMEs take longer to travel the 93 million mile distance, so the flare effectively "blocks" the preventative measures that would have otherwise occurred as satellites cannot see the plasma cloud encroaching on us.

From what I've read, the CME does not produce E1 and E2 issues, which are caused by gamma radiation from nuclear blasts in the atmosphere, causing electrons to separate and bombard the Earth. I have read, however, that there were previously "stealth" CMEs which were observed where CMEs occurring on the non-Earth facing side of the sun happen and release gamma rays which, due to the different rotation of the sun and subsequent magnetic fields, swirled around and smashed back into the sun.

My proposition for feasibility is this: The sun undergoes an event which causes multiple massive magnetic abnormalities causing an extremely rapid buildup of pressure. CMEs explode from the sun with masses of highly energetic plasma streaming into space. The magnetic abnormalities cause the aforementioned massive flare, which is observed by NASA, NOAA, and a number of observatories around the Earth. The flare itself is so energetic that it damages the satellites as it approaches and causes issues with radio communications with the satellites more protected by the Earth's magnetic field. In the ensuing hours, gamma rays emitted from the massive event begin to bombard the Earth. [From what I've read, there are a number of issues with this, as it can cause ozone to deplete, buildup of nitrogen di-oxide, etc. and I will have to work out the levels of this etc.] The gamma rays rip through our atmosphere and begin bombarding the stratosphere across the entire exposed portion of the planet. As we rotate, we are under a random bombardment from E1 energy, quickly destroying phones, automotive electronics, transformers, protection systems designed to manage geomagnetic disturbances, etc. This is a nearly global event. Then, we are bathed in a blanket of intense, horrific CME. One of the ejections was not only directed at Earth, but was magnitudes of order larger than any precedents. The power grid is almost entirely destroyed.

I believe the power grid aspect is fully possible, hypothetically. I am just unsure whether the gamma rays could even be released and "happen" to strike the Earth in such a bombarding, horrific fashion, acting as a global E1 EMP.


  • $\begingroup$ Gamma rays can only really move in a straight line. I don't know what you are talking about for them to crash back into the sun. You can read about what happens to Gamma rays produced by the sun here: physics.stackexchange.com/questions/142005/… $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 20:11
  • $\begingroup$ This is the Youtube video found on the page describing it here. I actually just read the article in more depth... this is what it said: In large enough solar flares, billion-ton clouds of superheated plasma are ejected from the surface of the sun. NASA thinks that material on the leading edge of these ejections, traveling some 5 million mph, arches around the sun along pathways that are determined by magnetic fields. | It goes on to say THAT releases gamma rays. $\endgroup$
    – Goliathat
    Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 21:37
  • $\begingroup$ So my original write-up wrong. But am I reading that article correctly? If materials from a separate CME splash back into the sun, the result could be gamma ray emissions? $\endgroup$
    – Goliathat
    Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 21:39
  • $\begingroup$ If Earth's magnetic field is caught switching poles, a fairly standard CME could cause damage on that scale, as our magnetosphere will be depleted to a fraction of its current strength.... EMPs also only affect things within visible line of sight, so you would indeed need multiple to affect the entire Earth, unless that CME is able to trigger global EMP events. $\endgroup$
    – Pyrotrain
    Commented Sep 9, 2017 at 1:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_storm_of_1859 for reference. $\endgroup$
    – user25818
    Commented Sep 9, 2017 at 2:02

3 Answers 3


At the frequencies involved, which are quite low, the efficiency of a receiving antenna depends on its size, so large conducting structures like the electrical grid would suffer the most, also telephone/internet, metallic pipelines could receive induced current and heat/blow/make sparks, etc.

I don't think this would zap cars and portable electronic equipment, or any equipment that is sitting on a shelf unconnected. Even equipment that is connected to the grid would probably be undamaged. This would not be the case for devices connected between two networks (like a DSL modem, which is vulnerable to high voltage between the grid and the telephone line). Computers connected to both mains and ethernet inside a building could all pop their network interfaces, but that requires much more energy that a direct thunderstrike on the building, so I'm not sure it would happen.

Cars and planes are rated to survive a direct hit by a thunderbolt.

So, this is not an answer to your question, but you might want to double-check the effects the CME would have.

Of course, without power, it makes little difference to the apocalyptic scenario. But if the cars still work, people can still evacuate the cities, then run out of fuel and starve in the middle of nowhere...

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Threat from EMP is overrated by Hollywood. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Sep 9, 2017 at 2:56
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, in a Michael Bay movie it would probably make cars do backflips ;) Human-made EMP bomb uses RF microwave so it will fry cellphones though. $\endgroup$
    – bobflux
    Commented Sep 9, 2017 at 2:58

It is not gamma rays per se that produce the E1 pulse, but rather the combination of a high energy surge and its speed, caused by the nuclear "flash". The CME has, or can have, the energy, but it can't have the speed (the build-up time is measured in minutes, as the atmosphere has no exact "boundary").

The E1 spike works by exploiting the $dt$ component in the $\epsilon=\frac{d\Phi}{dt}$ expression of Lenz's law through a very small $dt$. The shortness of the pulse ("faster than a lightning") combined with a large flux translates into a hefty voltage spike: and, if the flux build-up is comparatively slow, it just won't happen.

Also, the E1 spike does most of its damage by going through before fast interdiction components can kick in. Current protection mechanisms have grown better and faster, so even a "normal" spike has less chances of doing damage to today's electronics.

However, with a massive CME hit you'll still get to wreck most of the power transmission infrastructure (transformers and exchange stations), and possibly all higher-orbit and GEO satellites. A handful of satellites losing ACS control and crash-bouncing against the atmosphere would have a significant chance of triggering a Kessler cascade and wiping out most satellite telecommunications.

A period of increased solar activity can significantly disrupt the skywave, further reducing long-range communications.

If you really want to go catastrophic, there might be a forgotten window-of-opportunity subroutine somewhere, born of the following reasoning: "Should a massive CME event ever happen, it would leave the opposition's early warning systems half blind and their CCC crippled, and even a launch would have a very strong probability of being believed a false positive. What better occasion to deliver an unstoppable blow? But this would need to be done automatically, because even the time spent in consulting with CINC would see the opportunity slip away".


We had much better measuring capabilities (compared to 1859) when a Carrington level event just missed Earth in July of 2012. Although I don't believe any EMP was as short at an E1, the estimated damage had it not missed us would have been massive. A Chinese study estimated that it would take 4 to 10 years to restore power and other services. Worse yet, is appears increasingly likely that the 774-775 Event was a solar storm at least ten times more powerful than the Carrington Event!

So I think the answer to your question is not necessarily as short duration as an E1 event, but massive, possibly fatal damage to our digital world.




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