This week, the Earth has experienced a rare break from the continuous solar storm onslaught. But many believe that this is just the quiet before the big solar storm strikes. In the last 10 months, geomagnetic events coming from the Sun have caused multiple major outages on Earth. Notably, just a few weeks ago, a solar storm delayed the rescue operations taking place in the USA after the destruction of hurricane Ian by obstructing the radio channels which were being used for communications. But that is a small problem compared to what a solar storm can potentially do. A big fear has been whether a solar storm can wipe out the internet on Earth. A scientist has finally revealed the truth. Read on to find out.
It is important to first understand how internet services actually work. Radio waves are satellite dependent and send and receive signals from the upper atmosphere of Earth and that is why they are more susceptible to electromagnetic interference coming from the solar storms. But unlike them, internet connections are not governed by satellites alone. Elon Musk-led Starlink is a satellite-based internet service but it is among the minority. The majority of global internet access is via the ultra-long fiber optic cables that stretch on the ocean floor and link continents. These cables are resistant to any outside magnetic fluctuations and the current inside them cannot be affected.
However, every 50-150 kilometers apart, these cables are equipped with a device called a repeater. Repeaters boost the signals by repeating the incoming waves so that the connection does not get weak. These repeaters are vulnerable to the solar storms and they can take them out. If even one repeater is taken out, the entire global network will suffer immediate outage.
While this is scary, for a solar storm to actually pull it off is quite difficult. It would need to be extremely powerful and of the level that Earth has not seen before in its recorded history. Mathew Owens, a solar physicist at the University of Reading in the U.K., told Live Science, “You would really need some huge event to do that, which is not impossible. But I would think that knocking out power grids is more likely”.
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