No Internet. No mobile phones. No electricity to power refrigerators, run the vacuum cleaner or keep the lights on. No respite for weeks or possibly months. No Netflix. This is what would happen should a massive solar storm hit Earth, the threat of which the White House is taking seriously.
In October, the White House published a 19-page paper outlining preparations and responses to massive solar electromagnetic pulses (EMP) that could potentially cripple key infrastructure.
Dubbed the “National Space Weather Strategy,” the document calls for more studies on potential effects of space weather on power grids; more research to better model and predict space weather; and more cooperation among scientists and agencies at the international level, among other proposals.
Scientists for years have warned of the potential dangers of solar EMPs. In 2013, insurance company Lloyd’s of London estimated the economic fallout can be in the trillions should a massive storm hit.
Space weather can be traced to coronal mass ejections, or huge bursts of gas most often associated with solar flares. These solar storms send huge quantities of electromagnetic radiation toward Earth. That’s not good for power grids. A solar EMP could take entire power grids offline, plunging the world into darkness.
In 1859, one of the biggest solar storms ever recorded hit Earth, in what scientists now call the Carrington event. Society before the start of the Civil War didn’t depend on electricity as we do today. So the impact was limited to disrupted telegraph lines and shocked telegraph operators.
But the world today wouldn’t get off so easy. In 1989, a much smaller solar storm caused the collapse of Hydro-Quebec’s electricity transmission system, resulting in a nine-hour power outage.
In 2012, we got lucky. Scientists observed a solar storm believed to be as big the Carrington event. Fortunately, because the sun rotates on its own axis, Earth was facing away from the storm and missed it by about nine days. – Reuters