The 23rd Cycle: Learning to Live with a Stormy Star

By Sten F. Odenwald | Go to book overview
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5
“We're Not in Kansas Anymore!”

No master mariner dares to use it least he should be suspected of being a magician; nor would the sailors venture to go to sea under the command of a man using an instrument which so much appeared to be under the influence of the powers below.

—Guiot of Provins, ca. a.d. 1205

The Exxon Valdez left harbor on March 23, 1989, and within hours unleashed an ecological catastrophe as it ran aground on Bligh Reef 12:04 A.M. on March 24. The spilling of eleven million gallons of oil triggered a $5.3 billion lawsuit in a highly publicized court case. A decade later, the damage to the Prince Williams Sound is still evident if you literally scratch the surface of the ecosystem. The investigation focused on the circumstances leading up to the grounding, the absence of the captain from the bridge, and the failure of the third mate to follow a proper course, but there may have been other factors at work as well.

The powerful geomagnetic storm that triggered the Quebec blackout on March 13 was not the only event that rocked the magnetosphere that month. Ten days later, a secondary storm began fourteen hours before the Exxon Valdez ran aground. The IMP-8 research satellite recorded a powerful surge of high-energy electrons and protons lasting twenty-four hours. Meanwhile, images from the Dynamics Explorer satellite showed a bright crown of aurora girding the north polar zone, especially in the nighttime sector that included Canada and Alaska. Had the skies been

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