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Q&A

Can there be a global EMP disaster, whether totally natural or partially natural and partly artificial?

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I have no record in electrical engineering; this is a total outsider question which might be grasped absurd.

Wikipedia defines EMP as:

An electromagnetic pulse (EMP), also sometimes called a transient electromagnetic disturbance, is a short burst of electromagnetic energy. Such a pulse's origin may be a natural occurrence or human-made and can occur as a radiated, electric, or magnetic field or a conducted electric current, depending on the source.

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11 comments

The first part of your question at least is an electrical and physics issue. The rambling about digital currency doesn't make much sense, doesn't actually ask a question, and isn't about electrical engineering. This is why I am going to delete it. Olin Lathrop‭ about 1 month ago

I think this is more related to astronomy than EE. Although somewhat on-topic here, the question would probably have been more at home at https://physics.codidact.com/. Like for example, is it feasible that some really big comet passing close to earth has a wildly different potential and then cause something similar? Questions like that are also fine at https://scientific-speculation.codidact.com/ Lundin‭ about 1 month ago

Olin, not the so called deletion (as we have history) by moderator makes me feel bad as the naming of what I wrote as "rambling"; I personally do find the importance of brining this up because we all live in money-based economies; if the question, in its formal entirety is better fit to Scientific Speculation so I would gladly have it migrated (along with your answer) to there. JohnDoea‭ about 1 month ago

It is rambling in the sense that its not related to EE. Asking about characteristics of EMP is reasonable. Theory of electricity can be applied to the answer. It might be reasonable to ask how specific devices are effected by EMP, like computers. We don't care what those computers are running, though. You could just as well have asked about all your pictures getting corrupted. There is no electrical difference between that and digital currency data, or any other data, getting corrupted. Olin Lathrop‭ about 1 month ago

@JohnDoea There's several separate questions here: is it electrically possible to have some manner of global EMP event - that question could be asked either here or on the Physics site. If it's related to power grids etc, then here. If it's related to astronomy or nature forces, then the physics site. Then a question "what could cause a global EMP event" would be suitable for Scientific Speculation but not here. -> Lundin‭ about 1 month ago

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1 answer

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EMPs (electro-magnetic pulses) occur naturally often. Every lightning strike is one example.

Larger EMPs have been created artificially with nuclear weapons. The Starfish Prime H-bomb test caused damage a long way away in Hawaii. There were cases of the wires in street lights getting fused by the large pulse of induced current caused by the EMP.

Global EMP damage is quite unlikely, because the earth acts like a shield. Some radiation can bounce between the ground and the ionosphere, and thereby propagate around the earth, but that is only over narrow wavelengths, and there is considerable attenuation in any case. Assuming you're not considering events that are so energetic as to ionize the atmosphere or melt the surface, about half the earth's surface would be reasonably unscathed. We're also assuming a "pulse", so the event is basically instantaneous relative to the rotation of the earth.

However, a global disaster resulting from a localized EMP effect is more possible. Imagine every transistor in North America blown out. That would have global repercussions, even if no electronic device were harmed in the rest of the world.

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