In the event of a massive solar storm, the world will experience widespread power failures, satellite disruptions, train derailments and aircraft crashes, according to a study conducted in the United Kingdom.
In a report entitled Space Weather Preparedness Strategy, researchers from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in the UK highlighted the potential effects of an unstable solar weather such as a Coronal Mass Ejection. This occurs when eruptions from the sun send high levels of plasma toward the Earth that could cause disruptions to different technology.
The BIS report warned that the faster the ejection of plasma occurs, the more massive its effects will be to the planet.
The researchers noted that during the Carrington Event, a solar storm that occurred in 1859, eruptions from the sun were able to reach the planet in only 18 hours. This suggests that in a worst case scenario, the people of the Earth would only have about 12 hours from the observation of a massive solar eruption until its impact reaches the planet.
The Carrington Event corresponds to the strongest series of solar flare-related Coronal Mass Ejection, X-rays and radiation storm ever to be recorded by scientists.
"Where such activity is directed towards Earth there is the potential to cause wide-ranging impacts," the BIS researchers wrote in the report.
"These include power loss, aviation disruption, communication loss, and disturbance to (or loss) of satellite systems."
The potential threat of severe weather disturbances in space was included to the National Risk Assessment in 2011.
The BIS is responsible for assessing the risk and impact of space weather on the Earth on behalf of the United Kingdom, as well as coordinating efforts to help improve resilience.
The department's report notes that the primary challenge is that the public's awareness to the threat of space weather is low. The researchers urge that further efforts must be done to educate people in vulnerable sectors to develop measures that could mitigate the potential impacts of disturbances from space.
The document also mentions the importance of establishing communications with the public as part of better preparation and response to such an event.
Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | Flickr