06/02/2010 03:17 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Solar EMP and the Mystery of Air France 447

In March, 2010 I gave a talk in Washington state about the dangers that electromagnetic pulses from the Sun pose to the electrical power grid. As I have previously reported in the Huffington Post, the National Academy of Sciences boldly warns that solar EMP (electromagnetic pulse) will short out the electrical power grid, forcing up to 130 million Americans to go without electricity for months or years. After my presentation, a pilot for a major commercial airline came up and peppered me with questions concerning solar EMP and commercial air travel. Basically she wanted to know if such blasts from the Sun can fry sensitive electronic components used in advanced passenger aircraft.

Our conversation quickly shifted to the crash of Air France 447, an Airbus 330-200 that went down en route from Rio to Paris on June 1, 2009, killing all 228 aboard. The mystery of AF447 has been intensively investigated, but the blackbox was never found and the case was never solved. Investigators surmise that the plane flew through a thunderstorm, causing a temperature gauge to be coated with ice and thus give false readings which in turn caused speed sensors, known as pitot tubes, to give even more false readings, ultimately tripping the cascade of failures throughout the plane's computer systems that sent AF447 into the ocean. But there are a lot of thunderstorms in the South Atlantic, and pilots who do the Rio-Paris run routinely avoid them...

The commercial pilot who approached me had heard the same scuttlebutt that I had, that AF447 had had been done in by solar EMP. When the Airbus went down it was passing through what is known as the South Atlantic anomaly, a California-sized crack in the Earth's protective magnetic field that normally protects us from solar EMP. Beginning the day before, on May 31, 2009, and continuing through the crash date, a large sunspot and along with it an enormous plasma filament had erupted on the Sun's northwest quadrant, the quadrant from which sunstorm explosions are likeliest to hit the Earth. Had a blast of solar EMP rocketed through space, penetrated this giant crack in the magnetic field and fried some of the Airbus's electronic components, perhaps including the temperature gauge and/or pitot tubes? Depends on how well those components were protected, or "hardened." Most hardening of electronic components is done under the working assumption that normal conditions will prevail in the Earth's protective magnetic field. The South Atlantic anomaly is not "normal conditions"; it is an absence of protection.

Beyond the specifics of AF447 forensics is the critical question of how to prevent future crashes. By scientific consensus, solar EMP blasts will next climax in ferocity and frequency late in 2012 or early 2013. Might be a good idea to harden sensitive electronic components before then. Might be a good idea to start being extra careful about flying through the South Atlantic anomaly. The bad news is that the Earth's magnetic field problems are spreading far beyond the South Atlantic.

The shields are down, Scotty. In Apocalypse 2012 (2007), I warned of the deterioration of the Earth's protective magnetic field, our most important line of defense against solar blasts. In December, 2008, my prediction was resoundingly confirmed by THEMIS, the squadron of five NASA solar research satellites that discovered a giant, pole-to-equator breach in the Earth's magnetic field, unprecedented in size and threat. As detailed in my forthcoming book, AFTERMATH, so shocking was the discovery of this gigantic hole in our planet's defenses that the THEMIS project leader exclaimed, "It was as though the Sun rose in the west."

There's a lot to consider here. There's a lot at stake.