Solar storms could cripple modern life

13 Mars, 2019, 04:38 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • An artist’s illustration of events on the Sun changing the conditions in near Earth space. Image credit NASA

Three solar "super storms" bigger than anything recorded in recent history have occurred in the last 3000 years, scientists have discovered.

"This was a high level of particle radiation, ten times more than has been observed in the last 70 years", Raimund Muscheler, of Lund University in Sweden, said. "If..." 660 BC solar storm was the third major solar storm occurrence to be documented, it could provide more insights on how solar storms impacted Earth in the past.

The team of scientists, which examined the chemicals preserved in Greenland ice sheet, concluded that the storm was almost 10 times stronger than anything detected in past 70 years of modern measurements.

If a similar-sized storm were to strike our planet today, the consequences would be disastrous - radio signals and satellite communications disrupted, power grids disabled, and a whole host of modern day systems damaged, from banking to transportation.

Solar storms can be far more powerful than previously thought.

The team made this observation after studying a band of radioactive elements, unleashed by a storm that struck the planet in 660 BC, preserved in the ice almost half a kilometre beneath the surface. "These are the high energy particles directly hitting Earth and producing the particles we measure". With these ice samples, the team was able to find out when our planet was hit by the sun's high-energy cosmic waves and how it might have altered Earth at that time, Phys.org noted.

The find shows that the danger of solar storms has been "underestimated", the researchers say. These storms took place in 775 and 994 CE.

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As for which is the biggest ever, it's a close call between the 774-775 AD and the 660 BCE events, as they're both similar in terms of magnitude from the records scientists have been able to gather from ice cores and tree rings (where carbon-14 is the isotope to look out for).

Researchers found radioactive elements buried beneath almost half a kilometre of ice in Greenland, which shows an "enormous" solar storm battered the planet in 660 BC.

To learn more about SPEs, Lund University's Professor Raimund Muscheler and his colleagues from Sweden, France, Switzerland, Korea, the UAE, and the USA analyzed ice cores from Greenland. But this event almost 2,700 years ago appears to have been more than 10 times stronger than any storm we've detected in the last 70 years.

"That's why we must increase society's protection again solar storms".

'Our research suggests that the risks are now underestimated. "We need to be better prepared", concludes Muscheler.

The effects of a'super solar storm' on our technological world could be devastating, burning out power stations, cutting water supplies, and leaving satellites dead in the skies.

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