Scientists find evidence of past solar 'super-storms'

Pablo Tucker
March 15, 2019

And while enormous solar storms are a rare occurrence, they seem to occur periodically, the researchers explained.

The new study means that a third known case of a massive solar storm dating back in time has been discovered via indirect observations in nature's own archive. Should a similar event hit us today, it could have a devastating impact, potentially knocking out global communication systems, satellites, electrical grids and air traffic systems. High-energy particles pinged into the atmosphere, sending a cascade of unstable atoms raining down onto the planet's surface.

The evidence they dug up is in the form of radioactive particles previously hidden under the ice sheets of Greenland, and experts are saying the ancient event could be one of the biggest solar storms to have ever hit Earth.

Now, new research shows that we've underestimated the hazards posed by solar storms - the authors report that we've underestimated just how powerful they can become. For example, in 1989, a solar outburst blacked out the entire Canadian province of Quebec within seconds, damaging transformers as far away as New Jersey, and almost shutting down USA power grids from the mid-Atlantic through the Pacific Northwest.

"If that solar storm had occurred today, it could have had severe effects on our high-tech society". However, the stream of particles is particularly strong when a solar storm sweeps past. The ice samples have elevated levels of beryllium-10 and chlorine-36 isotopes. These cores formed over the last 100,000 years or so, and have captured evidence of storms over that time. The researchers have utilized drilled specimens of ice or ice cores to search clues about former solar storms. A new study has chose to analyze ice cores (samples of ice which are recovered from glaciers and zones where the ice is ancient) as they aimed to learn more about the phenomenon and how it can influence the world. "We need to be better prepared", Muscheler added.

Although more research is needed to see how much damage such eruptions might inflict, this work suggests "these enormous events are a recurring feature of the sun - we now have three big events during the past 3,000 years", Muscheler said.

"Those storms took place in 775 CE and 994 CE".

Other researchers are also working on new protection methods which should be able to shield our sensitive electronics from the harm that can be caused by the high-power particles of a strong solar storm.

If you want to find out more about this topic, you can search online for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and you will find the topic there.

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