Technology

From citywide power outages to plane chaos, the shocking effects a major solar flare could have on Earth

The sun is key to our survival, but it can also wreak havoc on the technology we all rely on so heavily in this day and age.

One of the biggest threats are solar flares, which are huge explosions in the sun’s atmosphere that hurl a mass of dangerous energy our way.

Internet services are one of the many things that could be disrupted

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Internet services are one of the many things that could be disruptedCredit: Alamy

Fortunately, Earth’s magnetic shield and atmosphere protect us from direct damage, but if greater damage hits, it could affect many of the things we use every day.

“They make a hydrogen bomb look like fireworks,” said Professor Huw Morgan of Aberystwyth University, describing solar flares.

“When they explode, they’re quite dangerous, they eject a lot of hard radiation into space, and even if we’re quite far away on Earth, obviously that can cause problems.”

For developed countries like the UK and US, the detection kit is getting better and better so we can prepare for it.

But nobody really knows how bad it could be until one actually happens.

So what could be the impact?

Canceled flights

We could expect flight disruptions if a major solar flare hits.

First, GPS satellites can fail, making it impossible for pilots to fly safely — even though protection technology has improved.

“GPS satellites are very well shielded to make sure they don’t have a big impact there and also carry monitors to look for changes in the Earth’s environment,” said Professor Andrew Coates of University College London.

But flights flying to high latitudes have to stay on the ground, as they could expose everyone on board to harmful radiation.

“For example, flights to California from the UK are being canceled because of the radiation hazard,” Professor Morgan added.

“The transport, the railroads, they will have warnings.”

Power grid failure

Quebec, Canada, suffered a massive power outage after a geomagnetic storm in the late 1980s, leaving millions without power.

Something similar could happen today – although space storm prediction technology means experts can hopefully take action to reduce the potential impact.

“The power grids are going to react, they’re doing things at the substations that help not fry the systems,” Professor Morgan said.

interruption of communication

And not only the power supply would be endangered, but also everything we use for communication.

That means making phone calls and going online.

youngest research says that in extreme cases, geomagnetically induced currents (GIC) could damage long-distance cables used for the Internet, particularly undersea cables that connect continents.

‘You would effectively lose internet and cellphone communications, probably for a day or two,’ Professor Coates said.

“People have been estimating the amount of money, transactions, all these things, the wheels of commerce, the internet, etc., it all depends on good communication and if you suddenly lose that, it could potentially be devastating.”

And it’s not just all we need to think about

Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) are at high risk of exposure to dangerous radiation.

Thankfully, the station has a small safe area they can all protect themselves from, which is why good space weather detection systems are important.

But it’s not all bad…

One of the nicer things we can expect is northern lights almost everywhere with lots of bright auroras.

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A Met Office official told The Sun: “The Met Office is one of a handful of centers around the world that monitor the Sun’s activity 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

“Our forecasts give government and industry valuable time to mitigate the worst effects of solar flares or coronal mass ejections.”

GPS systems would also fail

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GPS systems would also failCredit: Alamy
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https://www.thesun.ie/tech/8934460/how-solar-flare-could-impact-earth/ From citywide power outages to plane chaos, the shocking effects a major solar flare could have on Earth

Fry Electronics Team

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