How much destruction can a Solar Storm cause on Earth? NASA tells us the SCARY truth

In the modern world connected by the internet, just how destructive can a big solar storm be for Earth? NASA says the destruction can be massive.

| Updated on: Aug 22 2022, 10:23 IST
Solar Flares vs Solar Storms
With the advent of the digital age, how much destruction can we expect from a huge solar storm headed towards the Earth? The analysis by NASA is frightening (Pixabay)
Solar Flares vs Solar Storms
With the advent of the digital age, how much destruction can we expect from a huge solar storm headed towards the Earth? The analysis by NASA is frightening (Pixabay)

A solar storm can be deadly. We all know it, we have read about it and every time a new solar storm hurtles through space \towards Earth, we read about it in the headlines. But just how destructive can a large solar storm be? You will be forgiven for taking the space weather phenomenon that causes beautiful aurora lightly. But in reality, it is one of the most destructive forces of nature. We just have not seen the true extent of it so far, but it has happened earlier on Earth. And while it may not kill humans directly, it can definitely create situations that can lead to mass deaths. While NASA continues its research into solar storms, solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CME), we have found out a lot about the destructive potential of solar storms.

Recently, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) created history when on February 15, the Solar Orbiter spacecraft took unprecedented images of a solar eruption. This is the first time we have seen such a detailed view of the event and it has taught the astronomy community a lot more about these destructive events on the surface of the Sun. But NASA has been observing these solar flares and solar storms for a long time and has found out the energy released by them are exponentially larger than any nuclear weapon on Earth. According to the space agency, “The explosions, called solar flares, are capable of releasing as much energy as a billion one-megaton nuclear bombs”.

The destructive power of a solar storm

But thankfully we are millions of miles away from the Sun and solar flares in themselves are not a challenge we have to deal with. But the resultant solar storm is the real danger that looms over planet Earth. And to be honest, it is still not enough to kill on the planet, but it is capable of destroying all the satellites around the Earth, knockout power grids and all forms of communications, even the Internet. While the Earth's atmosphere absorbs most of the energy blasted by the Sun, but if a solar storm is massive enough, this energy can reach Earth and cause damage to infrastructure here. And yes, it can hit the Internet too as the deep sea cables that carry the Net to most countries have certain equipment that can be destroyed by a powerful solar storm. It will take months to repair these. What is more, no country is prepared for that eventuality. Considering that most of our medical infrastructure is dependent on Electricity and Internet, the chaos in our hospitals and other places can be imagined.

In fact, it is not a mere speculation. NASA tells us about the events that have already happened in the past and the destruction solar storms caused. In September 1859, the most intense geomagnetic storm in recorded history called the Carrington event took place and disrupted telegraph systems all over the world. In March 1989, the Hydro-Quebec power network collapsed due to geomagnetically induced currents. This event led to a general blackout that lasted more than 9 hours and affected over 6 million people.

And these events took place in the past when digital technology was still developing and there were not nearly as many satellites in the sky as there are today. But, why is damage to satellites such a big concern to the people on the Earth? NASA responds to this in a post. “In an increasingly technological world, where almost everyone relies on cellphones, and GPS controls not just your in-car map system, but also airplane navigation and the extremely accurate clocks that govern financial transactions, space weather is a serious matter”, the website reads.

And that is the main concern. In a world, where everything from airlines, stock markets, hospitals, emergency services and many more are operating using electricity and internet of some kind, a direct hit on these channels will instantly halt all these services. While solar storms cannot physically damage us, these things can, not only cause high financial damage, but also loss of countless lives as a side-effect of the entire system collapsing.

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First Published Date: 02 Mar, 15:25 IST