Telecommunications, navigation systems, satellites and electrical networks on which our day to day lives on the earth’s surface are compromised by the vertiginous activity of our sun. Now, a new study has estimated that, on average, once every 25 years our planet Earth could be hit by a solar storm so powerful as to wobble our technodependent civilization.
By analyzing the magnetic field records at opposite ends of the Earth (United Kingdom and Australia), scientists at the University of Warwick and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have been able to detect superstorms that date back over the past 150 years.
This result was made possible by a new way of analyzing historical data, initiated by the University of Warwick, of the last 14 solar cycles, long before the space age began in 1957, instead of the last five solar cycles currently used.
The analysis shows that “severe” magnetic storms occurred in 42 of the last 150 years, and “large” superstorms occurred in 6 of 150. Generally, a storm can last only a few days, but it can be very damaging. For modern technology. Superstorms can cause blackouts, turn off satellites, interrupt aviation and cause temporary loss of GPS signals and radio communications.
Lead author Professor Sandra Chapman of the Center for Fusion, Space and Astrophysics at the University of Warwick said in a statement:
“These superstorms are rare events, but estimating their likelihood of occurrence is an important part of planning the level of mitigation necessary to protect the critical national infrastructure.”
“This research proposes a new method to address historical data, to provide a better picture of the possibility of the occurrence of superstorms and what activity we are likely to see in the future,” he added.
The Carrington storm of 1859 is widely recognized as the largest superstorm recorded, but it is prior to even the data used in this study. The analysis led by Professor Chapman estimates how wide it would take to be in the same class as the other superstorms and, therefore, with a possibility of occurrence that can be estimated.
The space weather is driven by the activity of the sun. Smaller storms are common, but occasionally larger storms occur that can have a significant impact.
In 2012, the Earth narrowly avoided problems when an ejection of coronal mass from the Sun lost the Earth and went in another direction. According to satellite measurements, if it had hit the Earth, it would have caused a superstorm.
Source: Warwick University.