The United States has experienced disruptions from electromagnetic pulses (EMP) due to high-altitude hydrogen bomb explosions and also space weather. The first time that this occurred with the hydrogen bomb was the starfish test detonation experiment. This explosion was over 800 miles away from Hawaii, and it still disrupted many electrical devices. Solar storms also create EMP events that upset these devices. These storms come about from solar flares and coronal mass discharges from the sun.
There is a way for a novice or terrorist to generate an EMP that can disrupt a computer.
The United States has underestimated the ability of an amateur or terrorist to launch an EMP attack on the infrastructure or the electric grid. In addition to the phenomena introduced above, a Tesla coil or Marx generator can easily supply the EMP to disable the infrastructure or a part of the electric grid. Another device that can be an EMP source is the camera flash. This device may be an issue if a terrorist connects it to the wiring of a fly-by-wire jet.
What is an EMP?
An EMP is a high energy, very short duration (in the microsecond range) discharge of radiofrequency energy. This event disables electromechanical devices, but it’s particularly toxic at lower energy levels to microprocessors and computers. It can be created by a hydrogen bomb explosion at an altitude far above the surface of the Earth. A Marx generator or Tesla coil can also generate it. Other sources of EMP can be naturally occurring phenomena: Lightning, solar flares, and coronal mass discharges from the Sun can also produce EMP.
Natural Phenomena That Produce EMP
When most people think of the naturally occurring event that creates an EMP, they typically think of lightning. The other phenomena that create
EMP are solar storms. Space weather can be created by a prominent solar flare or a coronal mass ejection. This is a slow-moving, multi-billion-ton cloud of plasma that contains electrons and protons. In Québec in 1989, a blackout was blamed on a massive solar storm. In July 2012, we had a large solar storm, and it was twice the size as the event that caused the 1989 Québec blackout. The most significant solar storm was the Carrington event of 1859. At the time of this event, we did not have radio or other modern conveniences like cell phones. We did have telegraph stations that used wires on telephone poles and acted as a large antenna. If a storm of this magnitude happened today, we would probably be set back to the Stone Age.