The strongest solar storm till date is from 1859. What if Earth was hit by something similar? Expert reveals.
From households, offices, hospitals, all major communication systems in the world, the power grid that connects them all, including our day-to-day activities, can be halted in just a flash of a second! This horrific scenario can become real if the Earth was hit by a big enough solar storm. Just such an event had come to pass in real life! Known as the Carrington Event in 1859, the solar storm spread terror across the world as the telegraph system suddenly started giving electrical shocks to the operators, set fire to wires and offices and much more. Similarly, there was another storm, which is said to be three times weaker than the Carrington Event that once hit Earth and it still managed to damage electrical transformers and the power grid. This was in Quebec, Canada, in March 1989 during which the Hydro-Quebec electrical grid collapsed. The same storm in New Jersey caused a transformer to blow and tripped the grid’s circuit breakers. These areas were left without electricity for hours. It was an invisible calamity with very real-world destruction.
How solar storms affect Earth
The reason behind the occurrence of solar storms, which wreak havoc on Earth, is the activity on the Sun. The very volatile nature of the Sun causes it to spew huge amounts of energy into space and if Earth is in the way, it gets hit by these solar storms. And when a solar storm reaches the Earth, it creates a disturbance of Earth’s magnetosphere and causes a strong geomagnetic storm.
There are parameters to measure the intensity of these geomagnetic storms. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration measures the strength of these storms with the G-Scale having a rating starting with G1 to G5 being extreme in nature. And undoubtedly, the Carrington Event would have been rated as G5.
Impact of a geomagnetic storm on Power grid
The number of solar storms these days has risen. And the impact is evident. From minor radio blackout reports to dazzling auroras in the northern and southern poles, these are all caused by geomagnetic storms that are not very big. But what if the Earth ever witnesses a Carrington Event-like storm today?
David Wallace, the Assistant Clinical Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Mississippi State University said that its impact would be more catastrophic than what we had seen in 1859. “Geomagnetic storms generate induced currents, which flow through the electrical grid. The geomagnetically induced currents, which can be in excess of 100 amperes, flow into the electrical components connected to the grid, such as transformers, relays and sensors. One hundred amperes is equivalent to the electrical service provided to many households. Currents this size can cause internal damage in the components, leading to large scale power outages,” explains Wallace.
With the ever-increasing dependence on power and technology, any disruption might result in trillions of dollars in financial loss and, what is worse, put millions of lives in danger. Since even hospitals require electricity, any disruption for a long period will mean those requiring emergency help will not be able to get it. Also, without power, even the mobile phones will not work.