A massive solar flare could cause global chaos in 2013, causing blackouts and wrecking satellite communications, a conference heard yesterday.
Nasa has warned that a peak in the sun’s magnetic energy cycle and the number of sun spots or flares around 2013 could generate huge radiation levels.
The resulting solar storm could cause a geomagnetic storm on Earth, knocking out electricity grids around the world for hours, days, or even months, bringing much of normal life grinding to a halt.
Defence Secretary Liam Fox, who delivered the keynote address at an international conference on the vulnerability of electricity grids around the world, warned that modern societies’ dependence on technology leaves them vulnerable to such events.
The Sun follows an 11-year cycle of high and low periods of solar activity. It is now leaving a notably quiet phase and scientists expect to see a sharp increase in the number of solar flares as well as unprecedented levels of magnetic energy.
The rings of fire, which have the power of 100 hydrogen bombs, could cause twenty times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina.
Experts met in Washington DC in June to discuss how to protect Earth from the ferocious flares, which are expected sometime around 2013.
Nasa is using dozens of satellites – including the Solar Dynamics Observatory – to study the threat.
The problem was investigated in depth two years ago by the National Academy of Sciences, in a report which outlined the social and economic impacts of severe space weather events.
It noted how people of the 21st-century rely on high-tech systems for the basics of daily life.
Smart power grids, GPS navigation, air travel, financial services and emergency radio communications can all be knocked out by intense solar activity.
But much of the damage could be minimised if it was known in advance that the storm was approaching.
Putting satellites in ‘safe mode’ and disconnecting transformers could protect them from damaging electrical surges.