As we all know, it’s been a pretty exciting time for space exploration lately. We’re sending new stuff out with technology more powerful than ever before, bringing old stuff back that have been studying our favorite planets for ages, and working on a number of projects expected to take place within the next few years - that is if the Sun hasn't destroyed all of our technology by then.
New research has the internet abuzz about how a single solar storm could spell the end of the Internet, and basically everything else we're using to communicate right now.
When the Sun's hyperactive magnetic field releases pressure in the form of charged particles, these can carry huge clouds of hot plasma called coronal mass ejections, or CMEs. These actually happen all the time, sometimes several times a day, but recently a team of astronomers reported that they might be a threat to our current way of life.
In 2012, a solar storm sent out a huge CME that could have devastated Earth's power systems. Luckily, it narrowly missed Earth, but it was later measured to be as powerful as the so called Carrington event - a solar storm that hit Earth in 1859 with the energy equivalent of 10 billion atomic bombs, completely frying radio towers and telegraph lines.
And now, based on Earth's orbit and patterns of the Sun's magnetic fields, the scientists predict there is a 12 percent chance that another Carrington-class solar storm could strike Earth within the next ten years.
In fact, the scientists say such a storm is likely to hit us every 150 years - which puts us about eight years overdue.
However this time, it would be a much bigger deal because, I don't know if you've noticed, but people don’t use telegraph's much these days.
If a Carrington-style event happened today, photons and other high-energy particles from the Sun would first damage our satellites. They would interfere with their circuitry and make them difficult, maybe even impossible to control, and therefore use depending on the strength of the CME and Earth's magnetic field.
At the time, some of these effects could penetrate to electronics on Earth's surface. Then, magnetized clouds of plasma would hit power lines, possibly blowing out transformers and transfer stations and destroying power grids.
But don't worry; before you begin hoarding power-banks and recruiting pigeons to deliver your mail, scientists have contingency plans.
During a conference called Solar Max back in 2015, about forty scientists from around the world came up with proposals to use satellites in orbit around the Sun to better predict solar storms and provide time to switch off power lines reorient satellites and spacecraft, and to basically brace ourselves for life on Earth, briefly turning into a bad TV drama.
Hopefully, NASA will listen to their own advice, because I'd really miss talking to you.
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Sources: This story was originally published on SciShow Space. I am republishing a lightly edited version on SkyFeed in light of interest in the subject. Hofmeister, Caitlyn. "Our Next Mission to Mars." SciShow, YouTube. 7 Aug, 2014. Web video.
Citation: Rovira, Lia N. "How the Sun Will Kill the Internet." SkyFeed. 16 May 2018. Web article.