Imagine if electrical power suddenly went out for hundreds of millions of people. A blackout not just for hours, but for months, throwing our world into chaos and impacting everything from communications to food and water distribution. While a global blackout sounds like the start of an apocalyptic movie, there’s a possibility it could happen.
A massive solar storm hitting the earth is a ‘Low-Probability, High-Consequence’ event. It has the potential to knock out electrical power for a prolonged period and wreak havoc on nearly every aspect of modern life. Yet, it’s not something we’re really prepared for.
The last massive solar storm to hit the earth was in 1859, and is often referred to as the Carrington Event ( after astronomer Richard Carrington first observed the solar flare). It lit up the night sky with brilliant colors and caused telegraph wires to spark. There was very little reliance on electricity in the mid 19th Century, but had the solar storm hit just a few decades later, it’s disruptive impact would have been far greater.
A solar storm is a catch-all term that can include Solar flares and Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), among other phenomena. A CME can cause real chaos for our electrified society. It is an eruption of the sun’s magnetized plasma that is then carried to the earth by solar wind, where it can overwhelm the earth’s magnetic field. Geomagnetically induced currents can damage hundreds of high-voltage electrical transformers all at one time, crippling the electrical grid. The impact of that could be catastrophic.
Video production by Mustard: