While they might sound like something out of a science-fiction movie, solar superstorms are quite real. Now, geophysicists are warning that the next solar superstorm could cause a global “internet apocalypse!” Read on to see why…
The 1921 Solar Superstorm
Way back in 1921, scientists documented a global solar superstorm for the first time. Of course, the internet did not exist yet – however, numerous countries reported fires in electricity and telegraph control rooms. Most notably, the switchboard at Brewster Station in New York exploded and caused a massive fire. By the end of the day, the entire building lay in ruins. From India and Sweden to New Zealand and America, the solar superstorm had an enormous impact on Earth. “The effects were in terms of interference to radio communications, telegraph, and telephone systems, all of which were used in 1921,” Jeffrey Love, a Geophysicist in the Geomagnetism Program of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), explained. The reason for these fires? Well, the solar superstorm created unusual magnetic fields on the planet, which resulted in the issues and fires.
Imagine how much trouble a solar superstorm would cause this time around, given the futuristic state of our world. “When we look back at this time, anything that’s related to electricity wasn’t as important in 1921 as it is today,” Love said. Although geophysicists are researching it all the time, no one knows precisely how the next storm could impact a world reliant on 5G and wi-fi networks.
So, will a solar superstorm cause the new global internet apocalypse? Thankfully, the effects might not be as harmful as a sci-fi movie…
Unprepared For The Internet Apocalypse
As a result of solar storms electrically conducting plasma and coronal mass ejection, the Earth’s transformers might take some damage, causing significant power and internet outages. However, thankfully, these outages will not last long. Why? Engineers have been designing new technologies with solar superstorms in mind! “When the current induced on the Earth by solar storms gets into a transformer, they unbalance it,” said Mike Hapgood, chair of the Space Environment Impacts Expert Group (SEIEG) in the U.K. “So that’s how you can get the blackout, but you can switch it back on. There will be damage but it won’t be particularly big damage.”
Still, there is something we need to worry about with the next solar storm: satellite navigation systems and long-distance communication cables. “They are exposed to the magnetic storm hazard because they have these components called repeaters that are grounded. So yes, the long telecommunication cables are also vulnerable,” Love said. Hopefully, before the next storm, scientists and engineers and replace them with cables not as conductive. Sadly, the research, development, and deployment of these cables would cost a lot of time and money.
“When you’ve got to put it all back together, how does everything interact? And often the overall response is not determined by the behavior of the elements, but by the interactions between them as well,” said Hapgood.