Can a strong solar storm knock out the internet on Earth? An Electrical Engineer answers and reveals the worst possible scenario.
Since the past few months, the Sun has been shooting solar storms towards the Earth and these in turn spark Geomagnetic storms on our planet that impact humans in various ways. The most catastrophic of such instances was the Carrington Event in 1859, which is considered the largest recorded account of a solar storm that hit Earth! Result? It left a huge impact including causing the telegraph systems to catch fire and even give shocks to operators, set fire in offices, and a lot more. Though, it also resulted in spectacular auroras that stretched way further than just the northern hemisphere. That massive solar storm made us realize that solar storms can leave us without electrical energy on Earth. And hence, in today’s digital world, it can even impact our internet connectivity!
Solar Storms occur when a large bubble of superheated gas called plasma is ejected from the surface of the Sun and this moves towards the Earth. NASA mentions that these solar storms are seen as bright areas on the sun and they can last from minutes to hours. If it is directed towards the Earth, then it can cause geomagnetic storms on Earth.
How do Geomagnetic storms occur?
These massive solar particles generate geomagnetic storms on Earth and can cause power grid fluctuations, inconsistencies in satellite orientation, and radio blackouts on Earth. A geomagnetic storm is basically a severe disturbance of Earth’s magnetosphere that occurs when energy from the solar storm is transmitted very rapidly into the space environment around our planet. This interaction generate the auroras at the poles that we see and these can also impact satellites, electricity grids on Earth as well as the Internet.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration use the Geomagnetic Storms scale to measure the strength of these storms. G-Scale has a rating starting with G1 as being minor to G5 as being extreme in nature. The Carrington Event would have been rated G5, which is the highest.
So, can a solar storm knock out the internet on Earth?
According to a report by The Conversation, Electrical Engineering professor David Wallace says that if the history of the Carrington Event-like geomagnetic storm repeats today, then the impact would be unimaginable! Considering the internet system that we use today, it will surely leave a huge impact on it. He mentions that the internet service providers could go down, resultantly, this would take out the ability of different systems to communicate with each other. From high-frequency communication systems to shortwave and ship-to-shore radio waves would be disrupted or maybe even go blank completely! Not just that, it will leave everyday life disrupted due to a failed navigation system.
Also, the undersea cables that carry most of our Internet will probably stop working as the connectors that keeps them linked can be destroyed by a severe geomagnetic storm, This would require months of time to repair.