The world is not ready to overcome once-in-a-century solar superstorm, scientists say

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About 100 years ago, on May 15, 1921, several fires broke out in electrical and telegraph control rooms in many parts of the world, including the US and UK.

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In New York City, it was from a switch-board at Brewster station that quickly spread to destroy the entire building, and in Sweden, Karlstad’s operators experienced first equipment malfunctions and faint smoke, then a period of quiet. After the main fire began, causing extensive equipment damage, study says.

Similar reports emerged from different parts of the world, including India, UK, and New Zealand Disturbances in electrical equipment and the then nascent electrical and telegraph wires.


These were due to magnetic fields generated on Earth by one of the largest solar storms to affect the planet – known as the New York Railroad Storm of 1921.

“The effects were in the context of interference in radio communications, telegraph and telephone systems, all of which were used in 1921,” said Jeffrey Love, a geophysicist in the US Geological Survey’s (USGS) geomagnetism program. Granthshala.

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Telegraph wires reported to be disrupted by a solar storm in New York, May 15, 1921

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Telegraph wires reported to be disrupted by a solar storm in New York, May 15, 1921

This space weather event is “essentially a wake-up call,” according to Dr Love, who says that if such a solar superflare strikes Earth today, it could bring even more devastation.

“When we look back at this time, nothing in 1921 related to electricity was as important as it is today,” he says.

For more than a century, scientists have understood how these solar superstorms generate and disrupt power and communication networks. But the impact of such a space weather phenomenon is still not fully understood today.

Solar storms occur when the Sun emits an outburst of electrically conductive plasma called a coronal mass ejection (CME).

When CMEs are directed toward Earth, they can pass between the Sun and our planet at a very high speed of about 2000 km per second, reaching Earth in a few days.

Because the plasma in the CME is electrically conducted, it interacts with Earth’s magnetic field, causing an electric current to flow in a layer of Earth’s atmosphere called the ionosphere. This in turn generates a magnetic field through the principle of electromagnetism by which motors and generators work.

This process ultimately generates electric fields in Earth’s electrically conducting surface, which drive electric currents through different types of rocks on the crust, which have varying abilities to conduct current.

“Now, if you had a power grid to flow across an electrically resistive geodesic structure, current might not flow very well through this part of the earth. Therefore, it takes the path of least resistance. , which is through the power grid,” says Dr. Love.

“So it eliminates short-circuits like this, and you get currents in your power grid system, which are unwanted or uncontrolled. And since the power grid system is all about controlling currents, and managing them and basically, having alternating currents at a particular frequency, in this scenario, quasi-direct current flows in a system designed for alternating current,” he added.

Experts say solar superstorms can be particularly devastating to transformers in the power grid, causing them to overheat and shut down due to an unwanted flow of current.

“And if you damage a transformer, you may have to replace it, which means your power outage could last a long time,” says Dr. Love.

Mike Hapgood, President Space Environment Impact Expert Group (SEIEG) In the UK, it also recognizes that one of the biggest problems will be faced by transformers in the electricity grid because they operate at very specific frequencies of alternating current around the world.

“When the current induced on Earth by a solar storm goes into a transformer, they unbalance it,” explains Dr. Hapgood. Granthshala.

Transformers rely on balancing currents as voltage changes – and if they are pushed out of balance, it can cause heating and vibration that will turn them off.

“So that way you can get the blackout, but you can turn it back on. There will be damage but it won’t be a particularly big loss,” says Dr. Hapgood.

Citing the example of a moderate-scale solar storm that hit Earth in 1989, he said the power outage in Quebec, Canada, was resolved in about nine hours.

“People now know how to fix it. And I don’t expect anything comprehensive. Although some people fear it will take years to solve, I don’t think many people, especially engineers, really do. Believes,” says Dr. Hapgood.

Scientists also say that satellite navigation systems can be significantly affected by solar superstorms.

“One of the big ones to come now is the impact on satellite navigation GNSS. I think it’s not so much that it will break, but that it will lag a lot over several days. At some points, it will work, and at other points, it will not,” the space weather researcher explains.

“At some point, it will put people in the completely wrong place. So there’s an element of it that won’t be relied upon. I think for aviation, it’s not bad, because they have clever systems that really Tells pilots if they can’t be trusted,” Dr. Hapgood says.

However, experts are uncertain about the extent to which global internet connectivity will be affected by the solar storm.

according to a a recent study The robustness of underwater Internet cables has not been specifically tested for such space weather events, by Sangeeta Abdu Jyothi from the University of California, Irvine, and VMware Research.

Research predicts that long-distance optical fiber lines and submarine cables, which are a significant part of global…


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