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Research on Ancient Massive Solar Storms Suggests a Need to Prepare for the Next Ones

02/02/2022

Numerous powerful X-class solar flares occurred last fall as Solar Cycle 25 activity picked up. Jon Jones, N0JK, covered the event in his QST column, “The World Above 50 MHz,” in the February issue, and he pointed out, “More powerful flares than these have taken place, such as the Carrington Event of 1859, during which aurora was seen in the South Pacific and in Cuba, and it sparked electrical fires.”

Similar events took place in the 20th century, but, as Jones notes, scientists are researching spectacular solar storms that took place as early as 7176 BC and in 5259 BC. The huge solar flare some 9,200 years ago has convinced researchers that we are not ready for the next one, and our modern technology would take a major hit.

“Also worrisome is that Earth may have narrowly dodged a ‘Carrington-level event’ in 2012,” Jones said. Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado — speaking at a NOAA Space Weather Workshop — said, “If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces.”

Jones said his reading has led him to conclude that these solar superstorms occur more frequently than people think. “As more ice cores and tree rings are sampled, scientists are finding there have been more of these [major solar storms],” he said.

In his February column, Jones cited a 2013 Royal Academy of Engineering report that discussed the risks of a Carrington-level event.

“An extreme space weather event, or solar superstorm, is one of a number of potentially high-impact, but low-probability natural hazards,” said Paul Cannon, a Royal Academy of Engineering fellow and chair of the study working group that developed the report. “Extreme space weather [can have] impacts on engineered systems and infrastructure.”

Cannon said the hazard and risks of extreme space weather on the electricity grid, satellites, and air passenger safety had not previously been critically assessed. His group’s report attempts to address that omission.

The Live Science article, “Ancient solar storm smashed Earth at the wrong part of the sun’s cycle — and scientists are concerned,” cites a study, “Cosmogenic radionuclides reveal an extreme solar particle storm near a solar minimum 9125 years BP.” Study co-author Raimund Muscheler, a geology researcher at Lund University in Sweden, said,These enormous storms are currently not sufficiently included in risk assessments. It is of the utmost importance to analyze what these events could mean for today’s technology and how we can protect ourselves.”

“A Carrington Event taking place today could destroy orbiting satellites, disrupt GPS, and damage undersea cables and internet infrastructure on the ground,” Jones said in his QST column. “An event in 775 AD was believed to have been 100 times stronger than the Carrington Event.”



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