Can solar storms damage submarine cables and DESTROY internet on Earth? Google tells us

    Google researchers have studied the damage a highly intense solar storm on Earth can do to the submarine cables that provide high-speed internet access across continents.

    By: HT TECH
    | Updated on: Nov 19 2022, 13:43 IST
    Think you know our Sun? Check out THESE 5 stunning facts
    Sun
    1/5 The Sun is the largest object in our solar system and is a 4.5 billion-year-old star – a hot glowing ball of hydrogen and helium at the center of the solar system. It is about 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) from Earth, and without its energy, life as we know it could not exist here on our home planet. (Pixabay)
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    2/5 The Sun’s volume would need 1.3 million Earths to fill it. Its gravity holds the solar system together, keeping everything from the biggest planets to the smallest bits of debris in orbit around it. The hottest part of the Sun is its core, where temperatures top 27 million degrees Fahrenheit (15 million degrees Celsius). The Sun’s activity, from its powerful eruptions to the steady stream of charged particles it sends out, influences the nature of space throughout the solar system. (NASA)
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    3/5 According to NASA, measuring a “day” on the Sun is complicated because of the way it rotates. It doesn't spin as a single, solid ball. This is because the Sun’s surface isn't solid like Earth's. Instead, the Sun is made of super-hot, electrically charged gas called plasma. This plasma rotates at different speeds on different parts of the Sun. At its equator, the Sun completes one rotation in 25 Earth days. At its poles, the Sun rotates once on its axis every 36 Earth days. (NASA)
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    4/5 Above the Sun’s surface are its thin chromosphere and the huge corona (crown). This is where we see features such as solar prominences, flares, and coronal mass ejections. The latter two are giant explosions of energy and particles that can reach Earth. (Pixabay)
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    5/5 The Sun doesn’t have moons, but eight planets orbit it, at least five dwarf planets, tens of thousands of asteroids, and perhaps three trillion comets and icy bodies. Also, several spacecraft are currently investigating the Sun including Parker Solar Probe, STEREO, Solar Orbiter, SOHO, Solar Dynamics Observatory, Hinode, IRIS, and Wind. (Pixabay)
    Solar storm
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    Know whether a solar storm is capable of disrupting internet connectivity on Earth (Pixabay)

    The year 2023 is causing dread for a number of astronomers and scientists who specialize in the study of the Sun. The upcoming year will mark the peak of the Solar Cycle 25, known as the solar maximum, which will cause multiple sunspots to appear on the Sun which will explode and send coronal mass ejections (CME) to Earth. And this would lead to intense periods of solar storms. While we all know about the dangers of solar storms, one particularly terrifying fear is that it can destroy the internet across the globe. And would result in not only financial and technological losses but also countless deaths. Read on to know more.

    A study by Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi, an Indian scholar and assistant professor at University of California, reveals the horrific possibility. According to her, the submarine cables that stretch on the ocean floor and link continents are equipped with a device called a repeater every 100-150 kilometers apart. 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.

    Google researchers find reassuring answer

    Recently, the researchers at Google have delved into this issue. Google funds, either partially or fully, 22 submarine cables around the world and is a major stakeholder in internet affairs. In a recent blog post, Google revealed that it researched the possibility of a solar storm damaging the submarine cables and disrupting internet connectivity globally.

    It turns out that there are special instruments built into these cables, which provide them with protection from such solar storms. And this is how it happens:

    “On both sides of the ocean, a landing station contains the lasers as well as redundant high-voltage powering feed equipment (PFE) to provide power to the many repeaters along the path. The Earth's ground completes the electrical circuit. For redundancy, the two PFEs maintain a design voltage between themselves. If one of the PFEs fails, the other is designed to double its voltage so the overall voltage across the cable remains the same,” Google stated.

    For comparison, the strongest recorded solar storm, the 1859 Carrington event, increased the nominal voltage by 800 Volts. In comparison, these submarine cables are designed to absorb fluctuations as high as 6000 Volts.

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    First Published Date: 19 Nov, 13:41 IST
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