Solar storms wreak havoc on global technology as the radiation which pummels our planet from the Sun heats up the outer atmosphere, causing it to expand. This means satellite signals will struggle to penetrate the swollen atmosphere, leading to a lack of Internet service, GPS navigation, satellite TV such as Sky and mobile phone signal.
Additionally, increased currents in the Earth’s magnetic field – or magnetosphere – could theoretically lead to a surge of electricity in power lines, which can blow out electrical transformers and power stations leading to a temporary loss of electricity.
Rarely does an event such as this happen, with the biggest technology-crippling solar storm coming in 1859, when a surge in electricity during what is now known as the Carrington Event, was so strong that telegraph systems went down across Europe.
There are also reports that some buildings set on fire as a result of the electricity surge.
Now, a new study has found that these solar storms should happen every 25 years on average, meaning we are well overdue.
Research from the University of Warwick and the British Antarctic Survey analysed the last 14 solar cycles, dating back 150 years.
The analysis showed that ‘severe’ magnetic storms occurred in 42 out of the last 150 years, and ‘great’ super-storms occurred in 6 years out of 150.
The last ‘great’ solar storm came in 1989, when a major power outage occurred in Quebec, Canada.
In 2012, a great solar storm also occurred, but it narrowly missed Earth.
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The researchers said that if it had hit Earth, it could have downed technology on our planet.
Lead author Professor Sandra Chapman, from the University of Warwick’s Centre for Fusion, Space and Astrophysics, said: “These super-storms are rare events but estimating their chance of occurrence is an important part of planning the level of mitigation needed to protect critical national infrastructure.
“This research proposes a new method to approach historical data, to provide a better picture of the chance of occurrence of super-storms and what super-storm activity we are likely to see in the future.”
Professor Richard Horne, who leads Space Weather at the British Antarctic Survey, said: “Our research shows that a super-storm can happen more often than we thought.
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