Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have found evidence in Greenland for an extreme solar storm that occurred 9.200 years ago occurred. Such massive events would cripple the earth within a few hours. Especially if they happen outside the time of the maximum sunspot cycle like this storm did.
Earth 2012 narrowly escaped a massive solar storm
A massive solar storm has the power to destroy all major electrical equipment on Earth. © dpa, NASA
We live in a fragile system, equipped with all kinds of electronics. We are largely dependent on our electrical devices. At home, for example, food is preserved in the refrigerator, in winter people are sometimes warmed with electric heaters, but even running water is controlled with electronics. But also outside of our own four walls we are dependent on a flawless electrical system. Traffic lights, lights and also vehicles need electricity to function. A massive solar storm would disable this system within a few hours. Shortly after satellites detect it, they are likely to drop out.
In the year 2012 (23. July), Earth narrowly escaped such an event, NASA scientists announced in 2014. This is known as a Carrington event – named after the British astronomer Richard Christopher Carrington. This had observed the last extreme solar storm in 1859. At that time there was not yet so much electronics as today. However, telegraph lines were massively disrupted. Auroras were even visible as far away as Rome. It is believed that the Earth is hit by such an event every 500 years. The damage would be immense and in the range of several trillion euros. The only way to protect electrical devices from this is to take them off the grid.
Evidence of extreme solar storm before 9.200 years ago
The research team led by Raimund Muscheler also took an icy drill core in Greenland. © obs, Wdr
Doesn’t sound too dramatic at first, but ventilators in hospitals, for example, are also connected to the mains. So human lives may depend on if and how we react to it. Such solar flares occur mainly during the maximum of the sunspot cycle every 11 years. The next Sunspot maximum is for 2025 predicted.
A team of researchers from Sweden’s Lund University has now discovered evidence of a massive solar flare in the ice of Greenland and Antarctica. In their Study drill cores after high spikes in radioactive isotopes Beryllium 10 and chlorine 36, produced by energetic cosmic particles, deposited in ice. After analyzing the cores, scientists determined that this solar storm occurred about 9.200 years ago, at a time when the sun was less active. "We were surprised to find such a rash, suggesting a previously unknown huge solar storm associated with low solar activity", said study leader Raimund Muscheler.
The study involved.a. The Alfred Wegener Institute, the Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, and the University of Gottingen are also involved.
Earth’s magnetic field protects against solar storms
Earth’s magnetic field protects us from the effects of solar storms. © iStockphoto
Before 9.200 years there were no electronics and so people probably didn’t notice it at the time. These extreme solar storms do not have any direct impact on humans themselves. The Earth’s magnetic field protects us from this. When plasma is ejected from the sunspots of the sun into space and on its way pushes further protons in front of it, this is called a coronal mass ejection (CME). This can reach speeds of up to 9 million kilometers per hour.
So within a few hours, it would reach Earth. The chance that such a plasma ejection hits us is small, but present. After all, the earth is only a minimal point when viewed from the sun. When the plasma hits the earth’s magnetic field, it directs the sun’s rays around the earth or to the earth’s poles. There they are visible as auroras.
Short-term shutdown of electric power plants upon sighting of a CME
Since it would take up to 10 years to rebuild a total failure of our electronic systems, the earth tries to protect itself from this. Satellites observe the sun and warn of such a CME, so that there is enough time to switch off electricity plants for a short time and to make further preparations. In addition, probes such as the Solar Orbiter from the ESA on the way to the sun, in order to understand the procedures there better.
Nevertheless Muscheler warns: "These huge storms are currently not sufficiently included in international risk assessments. It is of utmost importance to analyze what these events could mean for today’s technology and how we can protect ourselves."