Scientists warn of solar 'super storms'

Solar Storm SDO

Solar Storm SDO

Scientists just discovered evidence of a massive solar storm that happened some 2,679 years ago.

Professor Raimund Muscheler, from Lund University in Sweden, said: "If that solar storm had occurred today, it could have had severe effects on our hi-tech society".

In this case it was a solar proton event or SPE, a particularly intense type of solar storm where the released particles include high-energy protons.

The team of scientists, which examined the chemicals preserved in Greenland ice sheet, concluded that the storm was almost 10 times stronger than anything detected in past 70 years of modern measurements. Should a similar event hit us today, it could have a devastating impact, potentially knocking out global communication systems, satellites, electrical grids and air traffic systems.

Solar storms can be far more powerful than previously thought. "These are the high energy particles directly hitting Earth and producing the particles we measure".

These bursts of energy are made up of solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) which are emitted from the surface of the Sun. Researchers are able to analyze the ice to find out when Earth was hit by an unusually high concentration of high-energy cosmic rays.

New research indicates that solar storms can be even more powerful than measurements have shown so far via direct observations.

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In the past, scientists have used ice cores to locate two other major solar storms, one which took place in 775 AD and another in 994 AD.

By drilling deep into 100,000-year-old ice in Greenland, researchers found radioactive evidence of an "extreme solar event" that occurred around the year 660 BC - a period that coincides with the dissolution of the once-mighty Assyrian Empire, the construction of the Acropolis in Athens and the founding of Taoism in China.

"The first discovery of such an event was quite recent", Muscheler said.

To learn more about SPEs, Lund University's Professor Raimund Muscheler and his colleagues from Sweden, France, Switzerland, Korea, the UAE, and the United States analyzed ice cores from Greenland.

Explaining what this means for the risk posed, he said we now have three very big events taking place in the past 3,000 years. "Assets in space, including satellites and humans, need to be protected, and even systems on the ground are at risk from large solar events".

'That's why we must increase society's protection against solar storms, ' said Prof Muscheler. "We just looked at the last 3,000 years, and we certainly can get good enough data for the past 12,000 years".

"Our highly interconnected technological society has become vulnerable to disturbances from the sun", Muscheler added.

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