Have you ever heard of a solar superstorm? If you haven’t, then you should know that scientists are predicting one sooner than we think. If this happens, it could knock out the internet and power for millions of people around the world for a very long time. Here’s what the scientists are saying. (1)
What Is A Solar Superstorm?
No, it’s not like a thunderstorm in space. A solar superstorm is when the sun shoots a giant magnetized wave of energy toward the Earth. The thing is, while our sun may look peaceful from our vantage point, it is really a big star, aka a burning ball of gas. It is chaotic with massive amounts of energy that create magnetic fields. In between these fields is where solar weather occurs. (2)
“There is a solar cycle that waxes and wanes over a period of about 11 years,” said Howard Singer, chief scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center.. “At the start is the solar minimum, and then activity increases and you reach solar maximum before things settle down again.” (3)
Essentially, the sun has been building energy and is set to release a large enough wave of energy to have catastrophic effects on Earth.
“Astrophysicists estimate the likelihood of a solar storm of sufficient strength to cause catastrophic disruption occurring within the next decade to be 1.6 — 12 percent,” the research team wrote in their study Solar Superstorms: Planning for an Internet Apocalypse.
What Will This Solar Storm Cause?
NASA scientists say that the sun is like a rubber band that is continually twisted. Eventually, it will snap. This “snap”, called a coronal mass ejection (CME) is a solar flare that releases a vast amount of energy in the form of various electromagnetic waves, including:
- radio waves and microwave rays
- visible light
- ultraviolet light
- gamma rays
These rays are all traveling at the speed of light. Their velocity is fast enough to reach Earth in minutes. When this happens, it can shut down the submarine cable lines between countries, put power grids offline, and make web giant data centers go dark. What does this mean? Millions or even billions of people will be complete without internet or even power, and potentially for a very long time.
Naturally, this would be extremely disruptive to our society. Nearly everything we do happens online. We are heavily reliant on power and the internet. If this is all shut down, businesses can’t function, access to our bank accounts will be cut off, and our ability to communicate will be all but lost.
“ [A solar superstorm can send] strong electric currents on the Earth’s surface that can disrupt and even destroy various human technologies.” they wrote.
This Is Not The First Time
The last time Earth experienced a solar superstorm that greatly impacted the planet was in 1859. This was known as the Carrington Event. It caused telegraph outages across North America and Europe, equipment fires, and electrical shocks to telegram operators. These were reported all across the globe. There was another powerful one in 1921, as well as a smaller one in 1989 that put the entire province of Quebec in Canada in the dark.
When Will The Next Superstorm Occur?
The sun is highly unpredictable and CME’s are even harder to predict. They are predicting between 200 and 300 sunspots at the height of the next sun cycle. These are usually where solar storms originate, so there are plenty of opportunities.
For this reason, they are saying that we need to start preparing now so that we can avoid the almost inevitable disaster coming our way in the next decade.
“Given that a strong solar cycle that can produce a Carrington-scale event can occur in the next couple of decades, we need to prepare our infrastructure now for a potential catastrophic event,” they stated.
Keep Reading: ‘Neptune’ appears in the waves during storm
- “Solar Superstorms: Planning for an Internet Apocalypse.” ICS. Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi.
- “Growing risk of once-in-a-century solar superstorm that could knock out internet, study says.” CTV News. Alexandra Mae Jones. September 9, 2021.
- “False Warning about Solar Storms Has Gone Viral. Here’s What the Flares atually do to earth.” Washington Post.