Solar storms may be a common phenomenon on the Sun, but they can affect our lives on Earth too. Humanity could be one massive Solar storm away from an ‘Internet-Apocalypse’, according to a research.
During these storms, the sun showers the earth with a mist of magnetized particles known as solar wind. Our planet, the Earth, has a magnetic shield that blocks this electric wind from damaging the planet or its inhabitants and scatters these particles that go settle towards the poles, leaving behind what we call aurora.
This time, however, the wind has escalated to a bigger storm, which happens once every century or so. A new research presented at the SIGCOMM 2021 conference warns that this solar storm could have adverse effects on our life here on Earth.
SIGCOMM is the name of an annual ‘flagship’ conference, organized by SIGCOMM, which is considered to be the leading conference in data communications and networking in the world. It is also the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Data Communications, which specializes in the field of communication and computer networks.
Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi, an assistant professor at the University of California, wrote in a research paper that this solar storm could plunge humanity into an “internet-apocalypse” of sorts. This means that we could have to stay offline for weeks or months at a time which could be catastrophic, considering that we live in a world where we require an Internet connection for everything that we do.
What worried Jyothi the most about this possible situation, was that despite the pandemic having shown the world how unprepared it was for a catastrophe like that, and so might be the case if there is an Internet black-out. She believes that our infrastructure is not prepared for a large-scale solar event.
The Carrington Event of 1985
In recent times, two such large-scale solar storms have been recorded, one in 1859 and another in 1921 of which the former called the Carrington event created such severe geo magnetic disturbances on Earth that Telegraph wires had reportedly burst into flames. This was one of the largest geomagnetic storms (as recorded by ground-based magnetometers) occurred.
Auroras were seen around the world, those in the northern hemisphere as far south as the Caribbean; those over the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. were so bright that the glow woke gold miners, who began preparing breakfast because they thought it was morning. People in the northeastern United States could read a newspaper by the aurora’s light, some said. The aurora was visible from the poles to low latitude areas such as south-central Mexico, Queensland, Cuba, Hawaii, southern Japan and China. Even at lower latitudes very close to the equator, such as in Colombia.
Another solar storm in 1989, which was not so grand, was enough to black out the entire Canadian probince of Quebec for around 9 hours.
Damage to Infrastructure
Through her paper, Jyothi tried to highlight the most vulnerable infrastructure and found that local and regional internet connections were at a low risk of being damaged as compared to other due to their usage of fiber-optic cables that aren’t affected by geomagnetically induced currents. However, she did mention that long undersea cable connecting continents, that are equipped with repeaters to boost optical signals are vulnerable to these currents and could be rendered useless, even if one repeater goes offline.
“The economic impact of an Internet disruption for a day in the US is estimated to be over $7 billion,” Jyothi wrote in her paper. “What if the network remains non-functional for days or even months?”
If several undersea cables fails, she informed through her paper, that entire continents could be cut off from one another. She also mentioned that nations with high latitudes were far more vulnerable that nations closer to the equator and would be first to be cut off from the network and it is not easy to ascertain how long that would take to repair, hence the prediction of an “internet-apocalypse” for months.
Although, there is no mention of when the Solar storm would occur, it does happen once in a century and the world which is so dependent of Internet and technology, is most definitely unprepared for its repercussions.
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