In the days leading up to the Japanese earthquake there were two spectacular magnetic eruptions on the surface of the sun. Could these eruptions have somehow played a part in the timing of the Japanese disaster?
It’s an intriguing question that few people seem to be asking. Much has been said in the media recently about the possible gravitational effect of an unusually close moon on the Earth’s tectonic plates. There have also been theories put forward connecting the cycles of Jupiter, Saturn and Venus with seismic activity, but most scientists are reticent to attribute any similar tectonic influence to electromagnetic emissions from our local star.
Yet the timing of last week’s devastating earthquake (which occurred on 11 March 2011) was remarkably close to the moment when an unusually rapid Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) collided with the Earth’s magnetosphere.
Coincidence? Perhaps, but if so then its the 3rd similar coincidence in a row, because both last year’s Chilean earthquake and the Icelandic volcanic eruption also just happened to occur very soon after significant electromagnetic eruptions on the sun. Evidence is starting to mount in favour of a strong cause and effect relationship between major solar magnetic eruptions and powerful tectonic events on Earth.
Let’s wind the clock back to February 18th 2010. Solar physicists and backyard astronomers alike watch in awe as a million kilometer long magnetic filament emerges from the sun’s surface and arcs out into space. It throbs menacingly above the surface of the sun for a whole week as speculation rages as to what will happen next. How long will it remain intact before it snaps? Will it fall back to the surface producing a rare and powerful Hyder Flare? Hyder Flares can rival the strongest flares produced by sunspots, and it’s thought that they occur when a reconfiguration of the magnetic field causes filament material to fall back onto the sun’s chromosphere.
On 24th February 2010 the monster filament finally snapped, producing a CME and sending 3 separate clouds of plasma hurtling away from the sun’s surface. Solar physicists predicted at the time that any material heading towards the Earth (travelling at around 1.5 million miles an hour) would impact our planet on the 27thor 28th of February.
On the 27th of February at 06:34 Universal Time (UT) Chile was hit by a magnitude 8.8 quake, the 6th largest ever recorded. I was so struck by the synchronicity of the quake’s timing that I went to see Dr Lucie Green (one of Britain’s most eminent solar physicists, and a specialist in the study of magnetic filaments) at the Greenwich observatory to pose the question:
“Do you think it’s possible that material ejected when the giant filament snapped may have somehow influenced the Earth’s magnetic field sufficiently to cause the Chilean earthquake?”
Dr Green was unwilling, however, to accept the possibility of there being any kind of connection between the two events. Pushed on the issue, she admitted that the timing of the quake did indeed tally rather perfectly with the arrival here of any magnetic energy ejected in the eruption, but insisted that this must be a coincidence.
Hot on the heels of the Chilean quake the next major disaster to hit the planet was the Icelandic volcanic eruption. This too was the subject of another very similar “coincidence”. On 12th April 2010 a gargantuan solar prominence suddenly erupted from the sun’s northwestern limb. After an especially quiet 3-year long solar minimum during which there were virtually no prominences at all this was a major event, setting the astronomical community abuzz with excitement.
It was in fact the largest solar prominence we’d seen for 15 years, arching out almost a million kilometres above the surface of the sun. A highly significant solar event by anyone’s standards. Fortunately the eruption was not heading directly towards the Earth, but it was predicted to give a “glancing blow” to the Earth’s magnetic field sometime in the following 2-3 days. 2 days later on April 14th. Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which had been erupting slowly and steadily since 20th March, suddenly exploded into spectacular activity, causing the now infamous shutdown of many of Northern Europe’s principal air routes.
Once again the timing of the catastrophe corresponded extremely well with the predicted time-lag between the moment the waves of electromagnetic energy erupted from the surface of the Sun and their arrival here 2 days (and 93 million miles) later. Although the brunt of the giant prominence’s energy was directed slightly beyond our planet, the fact remains that the 2 most disruptive tectonic disasters of 2010 both occurred within 2 days of remarkable electromagnetic eruptions on the sun.
So as we count the cost of last week’s Earth-shattering Japanese quake and begin to live with the fall-out, perhaps the question we should be asking is:
“Were there any significant electromagnetic eruptions on the sun in the days preceding the Japanese quake?”
The answer to this question, for the 3rd major tectonic cataclysm in a row, is a resounding “yes”. On this occasion there were in fact not 1, but 2 remarkable eruptions that occurred within the target time-frame.
The first candidate was a CME that erupted in the final hours of March 7th. This was no ordinary CME. It was in fact the fastest one we’ve witnessed since 2005. Its stream of super-heated plasma raced towards us at 2,200 kilometers per second, impacting the Earth’s magnetosphere at 06:30 UT on 10th March, almost exactly 24 hours before the Japanese quake.
The timing of this CME alone gives us sufficient cause to add the Japanese disaster to our list of possible sun-induced events, but this was not the only significant eruption that happened just before the quake. Any influence this CME had would have been further augmented by a second notable eruption. The second candidate was an X-Flare which erupted from behemoth sunspot 1166 on 9th March. X-Flares are an especially rare and powerful type of solar flare that can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms. We have just gone through a period of 4 whole years without a single X-flare being emitted from the sun. This prolonged dearth lasted until February 14th this year when the first X-Flare of solar cycle 24 was recorded. Then on March 9th at 23:23 UT cycle 24 delivered its second X-Flare, a X-1.5 class flare that erupted from Jupiter-sized sunspot complex 1166.
The intriguing timing of these 2 eruptions raises the possibility that they may have worked in concert with each other to deliver the Earth’s magnetic field a “double whammy” blow that was strong enough to precipitate the Japanese earthquake. Some interesting scientific studies have been done to suggest the mechanics of how this might have worked. Odintsov et al (2005) have theorised that incoming CME’s or high velocity solar wind streams compress the magnetosphere generating atmospheric gravity waves, which change the surface air pressure. This disrupts the balance of pressure on the tectonic plates, and if enough pressure accumulates it produces an earthquake.
Their study also identified two sharp peaks in the number of earthquakes during the average 11 year sunspot cycle. One was caused by CME’s and took place at the time of sunspot maximum, and a second peak was triggered by high speed solar winds during the descending phase of the solar cycle. These findings, however, shed little light on the current wave of massive tectonic events which are occurring with increasing frequency and intensity at the ascending stage of the current solar cycle. This is a worrying trend that suggests that the worst may be yet to come, and that the approaching sunspot peak of cycle 24 could deliver seismic events larger and more destructive still than the Chilean and Japanese disasters.
This is an area of research that merits far more scientific attention than it is currently receiving. I think we should be much less hasty in ascribing to “coincidence” such glaring anomalies that we encounter in the cosmos and focus instead on discovering what they really mean. The modern western mindset has a tendency to devalue and misinterpret anomalistic events it doesn’t understand by calling them “coincidences”. Our quest for a fuller understanding of the mechanics of the solar system will be better served if we treat such anomalies as “synchronicities”, rather than dismissing them as meaningless “coincidences”. Synchronicities happen for a reason. They are like signposts at intersections in the universal matrix that surrounds us, alerting us that something requires our attention.
As solar cycle 24 gets increasingly more active and the predicted sunspot peak of 2013 draws inexorably closer, the need to fully understand the complex relationship between the sun’s magnetic emissions and the Earth’s tectonic system is becoming ever more pressing. It’s not a coincidence that massive solar eruptions happen just before major tectonic disasters. It is compelling evidence of a causal relationship. The better we understand the exact nature of this relationship, the better equipped we will be to weather the effects of the imminent solar magnetic superstorm very probably headed our way.
“Long-period trends in global seismic and geomagnetic activity and their relation to solar activity” Odintsov, Boyarchuk, Georgieva, Kirov, Atanasov. 2005