Can a solar storm wipe out Earth? No.
But can it cause unprecedented damage? Absolutely. And NASA expects one to hit Earth soon.
Don’t get caught up in the aftermath. Find out everything you need to know about solar storms here, including what damage they can cause and how you can prepare.
What Is a Solar Storm?
The term solar storm conjures images of fires and swirling masses akin to heated tornadoes. In all actuality, a solar storm isn’t a rare phenomenon.
In fact, you’ve probably experienced one in your lifetime.
Solar storms refer to masses of energy thrown from the sun into space. Numerous solar activities fall under this umbrella term, including solar flares, sunspots, and coronal mass ejections (CMEs).
Much of this solar activity originates from sunspots during a solar maximum, when the sun has many sunspots. When the sunspots recede to their fewest numbers, it is known as the solar minimum.
The solar maximum and minimum are natural parts of the sun’s cycle, in which its magnetic field flips.
Solar flares alone can occur 100 times a week, and a solar maximum happens about every eleven years.
A Real Threat
A solar storm will not decimate humans or the Earth, but it does cause potential problems
When solar activity occurs, the sun can spew its electrically charged particles into space, and some of them head directly toward Earth. The effects can be devastating because of today’s reliance on technology.
The most prominent threat is a widespread blackout. One such event occurred in March of 1989, when Quebec faced a 12-hour blackout due to a solar storm.
What caused this?
Strong flares send plasma clouds known as coronal mass ejections at the Earth. CMEs have the potential to disrupt Earth’s magnetic field by inducing electrical currents, which can then cause permanent damage to electrical grids or temporary issues, as in Quebec.
One powerful enough could create a global blackout.
Yet another solar activity caused chaos in 1859. It was known as the Carrington Event and is the strongest geomagnetic storm to hit Earth to date. It caused telegraph operator’s equipment to spark and start fires.
The ability of solar activity to destroy electronics is particularly nerve-wracking, as today’s society relies on the internet and electronics to function.
The Carrington Event even caused satellites to plummet out of control.
You might think a day without electronics doesn’t sound so bad, but it wreaks havoc on an economical scale. A single day-long blackout in New York can cost $1 billion, and ruined power plants and transmission lines mean communication and transportation are affected until companies make repairs or install replacements.
Incorrect Compass Readings
In addition to blackouts and malfunctioning gadgets, solar activity also disrupts the Earth’s magnetic field. As a result, compass readings are far from accurate.
False readings have the potential to affect airlines, boats and more.
If you’ve ever wanted to see the Northern Lights, you may get your chance — without leaving your backyard.
The particles hitting Earth’s atmosphere duplicate the aurorae seen in the South and North poles. Individuals who experienced the 1859 Carrington Event enjoyed spectacular lights in the sky as far south as Florida.
Although typically not life-threatening, solar storms can have devastating impacts on today’s electronic- and internet-centered world. And since more solar storms are coming our way, it’s best to be prepared.
Have Alternate Energy
One of the smartest choices you can make is to find an alternative energy source. Backup generators can supply electric, but investing in solar or wind energy is an excellent idea.
These possibilities allow you to enjoy things we rely on daily:
- The use of kitchen appliances
- Washer and dryers
- Toilets (for those with electric pumps)
During Quebec’s blackout, thousands of people were stranded at work or at home without heat.
Protect Your Electronics
When solar storms impact the electrical grid, it can cause power surges. These surges can destroy costly electronics.
To protect your valuables, invest in surge protectors throughout the house. If you have an electronic that is particularly important, consider purchasing a Faraday cage to protect it.
Faraday cages are storage spaces lined with metal mesh which distributes electromagnetic radiation over the outside of the cage but protects the contents within it. Therefore, you could store objects you don’t want to be sabotaged within the cage.
Faraday cages come in unique sizes and shapes, including bags. Utility companies even use this technology to protect vital pieces of equipment from solar flares.
Who has paper maps nowadays? You do if you know what’s good for you.
With electronics and satellites out of the picture, it means traveling becomes a whole lot messier and we can’t rely on GPS to tell us where to turn.
Paper maps are inexpensive and easy to store, so consider adding them to your list.
Have Emergency Supplies
Have an emergency kit handy. Contemplate including the following inside:
- Food and water
- A first-aid kit
- Pet care supplies for your fuzzy friends
- Documents and cash
Although it’s unlikely the electrical grid would be out of commission for an extended time, it is a possibility. Further, emergency kits can aid you in natural disasters and other situations.
Keep Cash on Hand
The trusted bank becomes much less trusted when you consider how it stores your information and money: through electronics. Although banks have backup systems that contain sensitive data, most of those backups also rely on the internet.
It’s a good idea to keep that sock drawer stuffed, then, in case all that account information disappears.
Pay Attention to NASA
NASA and other agencies are well aware more solar activity is on the horizon (or, should we say, beyond the horizon). When they catch wind of solar flares, CMEs and other activity, they share the information.
Check in to see what our bright star is doing so you know what times to expect outages and when to stay off the roads.
Are You Prepared?
A solar storm won’t destroy your house (maybe), but it can ignite panic and havoc across the globe. Stay prepared and obtain the items you need to relax while your neighbors bicker over the broken fridge next door.
To help you along, you can get your personal Faraday cage here. When the storm passes, who will have their cell and laptop intact? You!