A research team, led by Lund University in Sweden, found evidence of a severe solar storm that hit the Earth’s atmosphere about 9,200 years ago, through analyzes of ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica.
What puzzles researchers is that the storm occurred in one of the sun’s calmer phases, in which our planet was thought to be less exposed to such storms, and this has scientists worried about our ability to predict when our sun will lose its next large wave of hot plasma.
Scientists had previously warned that we were completely unprepared for a solar storm of this size, especially since the infrastructure we built today is exceptionally vulnerable to geomagnetic repercussions.
The sun is the condition of life
According to a press release published by the “Eurek Alert” scientific website, the sun is a prerequisite for all life on Earth, but our companion, the cause of life, can cause many problems as well.
Solar storms occur on Earth every few years, when there is strong activity on the surface of the Sun, when more energy is released, which can lead to geomagnetic storms. This, in turn, can cause power outages, connection disturbances, and internet outages.
It is difficult to predict solar storms in general, but it is currently believed that they are more likely to occur in the active phase of the sun, or the maximum solar energy, during the so-called sunspot cycle.
However, the new study published in Nature Communications shows that this may not always be the case in very large storms. “We studied ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica, and discovered traces of a huge solar storm that hit the Earth in one of the negative phases of the sun about 9,200 years ago,” says Raymond Moscheler, a geologist at Lund University.
How does a solar storm happen?
A solar flare or coronal mass ejection usually causes a solar storm. This occurs when the sun spews nearly a billion tons of energetic particles into space, and if the sun’s burps are large enough, these particles can collide with the Earth’s atmosphere in less than 15 hours. The reaction produces many radionuclides, such as “carbon-14”, “beryllium-10”, and “chlorine-36”.
Traces of these distinct isotopes, frozen in ice or trapped in sediment, could help us clarify the history of extreme solar events on Earth, so we can better understand how often they occur.
Newly analyzed ice core samples from Greenland and Antarctica revealed some of the largest production peaks of “beryllium-10” and “chlorine-36” that were discovered in the distant past of the Earth, strongly indicating the occurrence of a severe solar storm about 9,125 years ago. .
“What we have done is time-consuming and expensive analytical work, but we were surprised by the presence of this summit confirming the presence of a so far unknown giant solar storm associated with low solar activity,” says Raymond Moscheler.
According to the researchers, judging by the ratio of “chlorine-36” and “beryllium-10” isotopes, this event may be larger than the largest solar storm recorded so far in the ice core, dating back to the year 774.
The notorious storm
According to the paper’s authors, these prehistoric storms are much larger than anything we’ve seen since the 1950s, “implicitly suggesting a hitherto underestimated threat to our society.”
This can be compared to the infamous “The Carrington Event” of 1859, when we had much less infrastructure.
Despite this, the telegraph systems collapsed in Europe and North America, and the storm also caused auroras all over the world, from Australia to Hawaii to China to Mexico, but what happened 9,000 years ago far outweighs this storm.
“These massive storms are currently not adequately included in risk assessments,” Moscheler says. “It is important to analyze what these events could mean for today’s technology and how we can protect ourselves.”
What is certain, according to the Science Alert website, is that if one of these super-storms were to strike tomorrow, it could affect satellites and astronauts in orbit, as well as air traffic control, electricity networks and submarine cables, and this leads to travel restrictions and interruptions. Electricity and internet outages may last a few months.