A new study has revealed that a huge solar storm struck Earth 2,600 years ago which was 10 times more intense than any solar storm that has been captured and recorded in the entirety of modern history.
According to Live Science, the new findings are extremely significant and have proven that solar storms hitting Earth are a fairly regular occurrence in the history of our planet. However, with the world’s profound dependence upon electricity today, if another storm of this intensity were to strike Earth again, there would be a fair amount of turmoil on Earth this time around.
Research has demonstrated that it is not at all unusual for such solar proton events to occur, but these “proton events” are unfortunately highly hazardous not only for electronics, but also for people. And when solar storms strike the magnetosphere of Earth, creating geomagnetic storms, there is the additional danger of them toppling power grids.
In 1989 for instance, one of these storms created a huge blackout which stretched throughout the Canadian province of Quebec, even striking transformers that were situated in New Jersey. While a much larger crisis was thankfully avoided, this solar storm also came alarmingly close to knocking out power grids from the Pacific Northwest to the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States.
Because less than a century of work has been put into researching proton storms, scientists still have limited understanding of how frequently such powerful storms occur and how strong they can really get. However, this knowledge is critical, according to senior study author Raimund Muscheler, an environmental physicist at Lund University in Sweden, especially now that humans spend so much time both in the air and in space.
“Today, we have a lot of infrastructure that could be badly damaged, and we travel in air and space where we are much more exposed to high-energy radiation.”
While the Quebec blackout of 1989 was certainly a frighteningly strong solar event, scientists have estimated that the Carrington Event of 1859 was even more so, having released what is believed to be 10 times more energy. But while most people would not have experienced great difficulties back in 1859, today another Carrington Event would be a major catastrophe, with power outages continuing for weeks or even years.
In the newest study on solar storms, scientists retrieved radioactive atoms that were still hidden inside of ice in Greenland and discovered that the most powerful of these storms that has so far been analyzed occurred back in 660 B.C., making the Carrington and Quebec events seem positively minuscule in comparison.
With large amounts of radioactive beryllium-10 and chlorine-36 still present in the ice and tree rings elsewhere also showing heavier amounts of carbon-14 than would normally be expected, scientists have determined that 2,160 years ago a solar storm of astronomical proportions struck Earth.
While further research will need to be conducted to learn what might be expected from such powerful solar storms, as Muscheler further noted, “these enormous events are a recurring feature of the sun — we now have three big events during the past 3,000 years.”
The new study which has analyzed a major solar storm that occurred 2,600 years through the presence of radioactive atoms detected in ice in Greenland has been published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.