Could a solar storm wipe out the internet?

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High-speed solar winds can spread activity from the Sun’s surface to Earth. They have the ability to cause mild to moderate geomagnetic storms, as well as visible auroras in the polar regions of the planet. But could a solar storm disrupt Internet access for people on Earth, and if so, how likely is that?

What is a solar storm?

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

This activity generates a strong solar wind whose particles can impact and damage the Earth’s atmosphere for a period of 24 to 36 hours.

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

They can cause power outages and disrupt the operation of satellites

According to Mathew Owens, a physicist from the University of Reading (UK), Quoted from LiveScience October 9, 2022it “It could happen, but it would take a massive solar storm”. However, he said that such a scenario “It’s not realistic”adding that “Power grids more likely to be taken out of service”as geomagnetic radiation can interfere with the electrical conductors of transmission lines that carry electricity from power plants to homes.

The destruction of some satellite equipment does not endanger the future of the Internet. However, it can fail if a geomagnetic storm destroys fiber optic links under the oceans.

The cables are equipped with repeaters spaced 50 to 145 kilometers apart to increase signal strength. Although cables are no longer vulnerable to solar storms, their repeaters are, and if one fails, many lines will be down. That would mean an “internet apocalypse”. This hypothetical event would affect various network-connected services, ranging from supply chains to stock exchanges.

A few cases of solar storms have been observed

The scientific community received a major shock on July 23, 2012. A solar storm like Carrington’s he would have missed Earth by a week. The projectile from the Sun returned to the place in its orbit where it had been seven days earlier. According to the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, if it were to reach our planet, reconstruction costs would reach more than two trillion dollars and it would take years to repair the damage.

The Sun also ejected a massive filament on July 19, 2022, which this time reached Earth. However, since the speed was slow, the consequences were less severe. Once again, we have narrowly avoided an incident which, sooner or later, will lead to a scenario with catastrophic consequences.

On October 3, 2022, NASA said its Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the moment the Sun unleashed a massive burst of electromagnetic radiation into space, peaking at 8:25 GMT. It was also reported that this explosion, which started on the surface of the Sun, was classified in category X1which can drastically disrupt radio messages and electrical systems, as well as endanger the spacecraft.

Strengthening power grids, satellites and submarine cables to prevent them from being overwhelmed by massive 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 prevent 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 to allow scientists to track these disasters in the same way as hurricanes does not yet exist, although it is hoped that strategies will be developed to avoid or lessen the approach of an event.

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