The Carrington Event was a powerfulGeomagnetic storm between 1-2 September 1859. A solar coronal mass ejection hit Earth’s magnetosphere and induced the record-breaking largest geomagnetic storm. The associated “white light” flare” in the solar photosphere.. Strong storms were created by the storm’s Auroral Displays and caused severe damaged telegraph systems.
A solar storm of this size would cause extensive electrical disruptions, blackouts and damage due to prolonged outages of electricity grid. The 2012 solar storm was similar in magnitude but passed Earth’s orbit without hitting the planet. It missed by nine days.
New research has shown that the most severe consequences of a large-scale solar storm could be the collapse of the internet. In a paper published to SIGCOMM 21, researchers from the University of California detail the devastating effects a geomagnetic storm could have on the world’s underwater cables, blocking the flow of information and darkening a world that relies so desperately on the internet. Their research should be a wakeup call to the need for robust mitigation technologies to stop this happening, they believe.
Science is familiar with the idea of geomagnetic storms causing damage to electrical equipment. Science has long known that large solar ejections, also called coronal mass eruptions (CME), can pose a risk to satellites and disrupt power. It was not clear if it could cause damage to the internet infrastructure or prevent communication..Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi, a new author, examines how solar superstorms might affect submarine cables. Global internet relies on complex cables that run across the ocean floor connecting countries. If these cables are damaged, an entire internet blackout could occur, affecting almost all aspects of our daily lives.
Solar flares are caused by massive waves of hot plasma being ejected from the sun. This creates a wave of electromagnetic radiation that travels outwards. These waves reach Earth within eight minutes but are blocked by both the ionosphere (upper atmosphere) and the ionosphere. CME are larger events that release electromagnetic radiation, solar matter, and magnetic fields. They often travel in one direction as they rocket through space. If Earth is unfortunate enough to cross its path, it can disrupt the electromagnetic field and cause electrical equipment to malfunction.
Although such storms have been seen in the past they are very rare. The 20th Century’s largest storm caused massive damage around the world, affecting the US railroad system and Canada’s power grids.
The paper analyzes the Earth’s internet infrastructure and concludes that large CMEs could cause an entire global outage. This could continue for a long time after the storm passes. However, this doesn’t mean we would be left in the dark. The regional internet will likely continue to work as normal because optical fibers aren’t affected by solar storms.
Due to the US’ dependence on submarine cables to link them to Europe, the US would be hardest hit. Europe and Asia might fare better because of their land connections. Google would probably stay afloat while Facebook, which has its data centers fairly close together, would experience serious connectivity issues.
It sounds terrible, right? Unfortunately, Jyothi has more bad news. Researchers estimate that the likelihood of a large storm causing widespread disruption is between 1.6 and 12 percent per decade. This is much higher than most people would like. Research suggests that the internet must be protected from such an event. It is important to consider solar storms when building internet infrastructure.