Almost 9,200 years ago, a huge solar storm hit the Earth – during the solar minimum. Why this new discovery worries researchers.
FRANKFURT – 9,125 years ago, a massive solar storm hit the Earth and left its mark in the depths of Antarctica’s ice and in Greenland. This is what researchers at Lund University in Sweden discovered, and their study was as well Published in Nature Communications. Previously, solar storms were supposed to occur when the sun was in the active phase of its roughly 11-year cycle, known as solar maximum. But researchers from Sweden are now showing that this assumption doesn’t always have to be true for very strong solar storms.
So-called coronal mass ejections occur frequently on the Sun – during these eruptions, the Sun throws plasma into space. This plasma consists of charged electric particles that interact with magnetic fields. When this solar storm or geomagnetic storm hits the Earth’s magnetic field, the Earth’s magnetic field can become distorted. At best, beautiful and colorful northern lights are created – in the worst case, satellites can malfunction and the power grid and Internet infrastructure on Earth can be affected.
Researchers have discovered evidence of a massive solar storm in the ice
In order to track the solar storm, researchers from Sweden examined ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica, paying particular attention to the radioactive isotopes beryllium-10 and chlorine-36. These isotopes are produced by high-energy cosmic particles that reach Earth. They can be preserved in ice and sediments, but also in tree trunks. “We found traces of a massive solar storm that hit the Earth during a sun-negative phase about 9,200 years ago,” explains geologist Raymond Moscheler, one of the study’s co-authors. According to the information, it was one of the most powerful solar storms known to have ever hit the Earth.
In one of them, Moscheler says it is a very time-consuming and expensive analytical work Communication from Lund University. “So we were pleasantly surprised to find a maximum value indicating a massive, previously unknown solar storm combined with low solar activity,” the geologist continues. This unexpected discovery worries researchers, because it shows that massive solar storms can hit the Earth in the least possible time. “These powerful solar storms are not sufficiently taken into account in risk assessments,” warns Moscheler. It is crucial to analyze what these events could mean for today’s technology and how we can protect ourselves.
Solar storms can have devastating effects on Earth
If there were a solar storm similar to the one that occurred 9,125 years ago, it would have devastating effects: power outages, satellite damage, and the failure of various communications systems, but there could also be consequences for air traffic and astronauts in space. “For example, if the Apollo mission had flown during a solar storm in August 1972, the radiation to which the astronauts were exposed could have had severe, possibly fatal, consequences,” the researchers wrote in their study. Instead, the Apollo 16 and Apollo 17 lunar missions took place in April and December 1972.
According to the researchers, a famous solar storm that hit Earth in 774 also occurred near the lower limit of the sun – “contrary to expectations, but in agreement with previous studies,” the study says, this conclusion was reached. The researchers recommend looking for and analyzing evidence for other past solar storms to see if there is a “consistent pattern in the occurrence of extreme events related to the 11-year sunspot cycle and overall solar activity levels”. According to the research team, one must also determine the likelihood of such severe solar storms.
Carrington event: a powerful geomagnetic storm hit Earth in 1859
A powerful solar storm also hit Earth in 1859. The so-called Carrington event is the first scientifically observed solar storm to hit Earth. The effects were much less at that time due to the fact that electricity was not yet widespread, electric light, for example, only found its way into private homes around 1880. On the other hand, the telegraph network that had just been installed was badly damaged by the solar storm. The northern lights are also observed in southern regions such as Rome, Havana, and Hawaii, which usually only occur at higher latitudes.
If a solar storm the size of the geomagnetic storm of 1859 hit Earth today, the impact would be severe. A 2013 study examining the impact of the Carrington event on the then-current US power grid concluded that 20 to 40 million people in the United States alone could be without electricity for up to two years, and thus economic costs would amount to $2.6 trillion. dollars in the United States alone.
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In July 2012, the Earth narrowly escaped a similar solar storm, NASA announced two years later. The solar storm has just missed Earth, as two NASA probes have shown. In order to better understand the Sun and its activity, NASA sent the “Parker Solar Probe” mission to our star. (tab)
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