Could a solar storm wipe out the internet?

— joshimerbin /

High-speed solar winds can spread activity from the Sun’s surface to Earth. They are capable of causing light-to-moderate geomagnetic storms as well as visible auroras in the polar regions of the planet. But could a solar storm cut off internet access for people on Earth, and if so, to what extent?

What is a solar storm?

The solar storms are “geomagnetic”, which means they emit a lot of energy. This is a brief perturbation of Earth’s magnetosphere caused by solar activity. During a storm, our star, the Sun, emits unusually intense emissions from its corona, the outermost layer of the solar atmosphere.

This activity in turn creates a strong solar wind whose particles can impact and damage the Earth’s atmosphere within 24-36 hours.

These solar storms are now known as the “Carrington Event”, named after the astronomer who first recorded them. The solar flare reached Earth at 17.6 hours, and the events continued for about three days without interruption.

They can cause power outages and disrupt satellites

According to physicist Matthew Owens of the University of Reading, UK, LiveScience On October 9, 2022, this “Maybe, but it would take a major solar storm”. But he said that there is such a scenario “not real”adds this “The probability of decommissioning of power grids is higher”because geomagnetic radiation can interfere with the electrical conductors of transmission lines that carry electricity from power plants to residences.

The destruction of certain satellite devices does not threaten the future of the Internet. However, it could fail if a geomagnetic storm destroys fiber optic links under the oceans.

To increase the signal strength, the cables are equipped with repeaters located at a distance of 50-145 kilometers from each other. Although the cables are no longer vulnerable to solar storms, they have repeaters, and if one fails, many lines will be disconnected. It would mean “Internet apocalypse”. This hypothetical event would affect a variety of networked services, from supply chains to exchanges.

Some solar storms were observed

The scientific community experienced a major shock on July 23, 2012. A solar storm like Carrington would leave the Earth for a week. The projectile from the Sun returned to its orbit where it was seven days ago. According to estimates by the US National Academy of Sciences, if it were to reach our planet, the reconstruction costs would be more than two trillion dollars and it would take years to repair the damage.

The Sun also threw a giant filament, this time on July 19, 2022, which reached Earth. But since the speed was slow, the echoes were less. Once again, we have averted an event that sooner or later would have had disastrous consequences.

On October 3, 2022, NASA said the Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the moment the Sun emitted a massive burst of electromagnetic radiation into space, peaking at 8:25 a.m. GMT. It was also reported that this explosion on the surface of the sun belongs to the X1 category, which can fundamentally disrupt radio messages and electrical systems, and endanger spacecraft.

Strengthening power grids, satellites and submarine cables to prevent them from being overloaded with large amounts of energy would be one strategy to protect global internet access in the event of a catastrophic solar storm. Another option would be to explore better ways to avoid long-term geomagnetic storms, even if they are difficult to predict.

Solar storms can currently be predicted up to two days in advance based on sunspot activity on the Sun’s surface. However, the technology does not yet exist to allow scientists to track these disasters in the same way as hurricanes, although it is hoped that strategies will be developed to prevent or reduce the occurrence of the event.

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