Pulp

Eyes wide open in astonishment. I saw a supermarket newsstand. That’s not new. From time to time, I find it better to scan the daily headlines rather than buying a newspaper. Frankly, in the world of social media and search engines the sane and sober daily national newspapers are too expensive. They only make sense on a Sunday when there’s time to take in what they have to say.

It’s a moribund marketplace. British daily newspapers are in slow decline. Nevertheless, each title has a readership that remains loyal even if it’s declining in numbers. Before the mobile phone took so much of our attention time it was important to consider who reads the papers. As a sketch from the BBC comedy “Yes, Prime Minister” nicely put it[1].

I have an admiration for those who can transform difficult technical material into everyday language. That kind of communication skill is much needed and often undervalued. Taking simple words and sentences and telling a story that makes knowledge accessible, well that’s rare.

The newspaper headline that caught my eye was “It’s a space burp, Jim, but not as we know it.” Topped by “Earth facing solar blast as powerful as a billion nukes”.

This is wonderful example of how to turn real science into pulp and mush. I might be the only one who picked up the Daily Star, some irony there I think, and thought this thought. What a way to highlight a story about the sun. No, not The Sun but the sun that’s 93 million miles away.

There are some great people in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US who run a space weather prediction centre[2]. Their website is a place to go if you want to know where to see the northern lights at a particular time and place. On Monday 9 January, there was a solar flare that may have affected radio transmissions in South America. That’s useful to know if you are on a ship using High Frequency (HF) radio communications in that part of the world.

“Earth could soon be in the firing line of a massive solar storm with the power of billion hydrogen bombs” is certainly an interesting and rather scary way of putting it. What the readership of The Star should do about this suggested calamity is not explained.

The Sun is restless, powerful, and essential to life on Earth. It’s prudent to keep a watchful eye on what it does. There’s no doubt that it can cause havoc on extremely rare occasions. We are now more vulnerable than past generations given our dependence on extensive electronic communications.

The Sun runs on an 11-year cycle. I don’t think anyone knows why that happens, but it does. We are coming out of the quiet part of the cycle so there’s likely to be more reports on this subject. Solar flares, like massive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are difficult to predict. Our ability to warn of a once in a 5000-year event is fragile.

Perhaps this story is a hopeful wish of a newspaper editor. We will put down our broken mobile phones and pick-up newsprint once again. I wonder?


[1] https://youtu.be/DGscoaUWW2M

[2] https://www.swpc.noaa.gov/

Author: johnwvincent

Our man in Southern England

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