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Extremely Rare Solar Storm Could Lead To ‘Internet Apocalypse’

by : Niamh Shackleton on : 09 Sep 2021 09:09
Extremely Rare Solar Storm Could Lead To 'Internet Apocalypse'@sangeetha_a_j/Twitter

An extreme space weather event could affect Earth’s internet. 

Severe solar storms, scientifically known as Coronal Mass Ejections (CME), happen once in a lifetime, and the next one could go on to cause what’s being described as an ‘internet apocalypse’.

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These potential internet shortages wouldn’t be brief either; according to a study by Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi from the University of California, Irvine and VMware Research, we could be left without internet for several months.

NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (PA)PA

Abdu Jyothi explains in her study that humans are protected from these solar storms – which are said to happen around 80 to 100 years – by Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere, but they can cause ‘significant damage to man-made infrastructure’ such as the internet.

A CME is defined as ‘a directional ejection of a large mass of highly magnetized particles from the sun’ by Abdu Jyothi.

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She continued:

When the earth is in the direct path of a CME, these magnetized and charged solar particles will interact with the earth’s magnetic field and produce several effects.

While Earth’s magnetic field will deflect a CME’s solar wind towards the planet’s poles, The Independent reports that in extreme cases the Geomagnetically Induced Currents (GIC) produced on Earth’s surface by the CME ‘has the potential to enter and damage long-distance cables that constitute the backbone of the internet’.

Internet cables (Pexels)Pexels
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To date, the largest-ever solar events to be recorded were in 1859 and 1921, long before the internet was created, Abdu Jyothi notes. However, these storms did reportedly cause ‘extensive power outages’, as well as ‘significant damage to the communication network of the day, the telegraph network’.

In regards to when we can expect the internet apocalypse-causing CME to occur, according to the study, the probability of an extreme space weather event happening that directly impacts Earth is estimated to be 1.6% to 12% per decade.

An exact date of when it may occur is unknown, however.

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Niamh Shackleton

Niamh Shackleton is a pint sized person and journalist at UNILAD. After studying Multimedia Journalism at the University of Salford, she did a year at Caters News Agency as a features writer in Birmingham before deciding that Manchester is (arguably) one of the best places in the world, and therefore moved back up north. She's also UNILAD's unofficial crazy animal lady.

Topics: Science, internet, Now, Study, Technology

Credits

Independent and 1 other
  1. Independent

    Once-in-a-century solar superstorm could plunge the world into ‘internet apocalypse’, study says

  2. University of California

    Solar Superstorms: Planning for an Internet Apocalypse