THREE solar “super storms” bigger than anything recorded in recent history have occurred in the last 3000 years, scientists have discovered.
A similar event today could have a highly destructive effect on power grids, communications, GPS systems and information technology, warn scientists.
Solar storms are made up of high energy particles unleashed by explosions on the sun.
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The fast moving charged particles can wipe out sensitive satellite circuits and cause surges in electricity grids, triggering widespread power cuts.
Two severe solar storms in modern times caused extensive power cuts in Quebec, Canada, in 1989 and Malmo, Sweden, in 2003.
But these events were dwarfed by a solar storm that occurred in 660 BC.
Professor Raimund Muscheler, from Lund University in Sweden, said: “If that solar storm had occurred today, it could have had severe effects on our hi-tech society.”
Evidence for the solar super storm emerged from a study of 100,000-year-old ice cores from Greenland.
Further research using both ice cores and growth rings in old trees confirmed two other massive solar storms that struck the Earth in 775 and 994 AD.
Big solar storms, while rare, appear to be a naturally recurring effect, said the researchers, writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“That’s why we must increase society’s protection against solar storms,” said Prof Muscheler.
“Our research suggests that the risks are currently underestimated. We need to be better prepared.”
© PAA 2019