Published on October 31, 2012 | by Daniel Brown

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Technology blackouts predicted in 2013

Solar system

Solar flares could seriously damage communication across the world. [Flickr]

Scientists have predicted there is an increased likelihood that an intense solar flare could disrupt modern society next year.

Solar flares occur when huge explosions on the Sun’s surface cause an eruption of high-energy radiation.

When the flares are directed towards Earth, the particles cause a geomagnetic storm that can interfere with the planet’s magnetosphere.

The flares are capable of disrupting radio transmissions, downing satellite systems, and knocking out electrical power lines, resulting in widespread and lengthy blackouts.

These effects could have serious repercussions as the world increasingly relies on power and electronic communication.

The intense radiation could halt everything from air travel and emergency hospital devices, to televisions and refrigerators.

It is believed that the once-a-century phenomenon is caused when the Sun’s 11 year sunspot cycle coincides with its 22-year magnetic energy cycle.

The largest recorded geomagnetic storm occurred in 1859, leaving the Aurora Borealis and Australis visible as far south as Mexico and Italy – a phenomenon that is usually restricted to the Poles.

“The internet is designed to be robust and should not suffer from a storm of this nature. “Dr Craig Underwood

The storm severely damaged electrical infrastructure and generated increased electromotive force in telegraph wires across Europe and the USA, resulting in fires and even electrocution of operators.

Since 1859 there have been less severe instances of geomagnetic disruption; the most notable one was a 1989 storm in Quebec, Canada, left six million people without power for nine hours, disrupting services and resulting in economic loss.

Dr Craig Underwood, Deputy Director of the Surrey Space Centre, said: “The probability of a storm of this nature is higher over the next few years as we approach solar maximum.

“The effects on the planet would be dependent on the magnitude of such a storm. National power grids are at risk from the storm as Canada experienced in 1989.

“However, it is unlikely that a storm would severely cripple communication for a prolonged period.The internet is designed to be robust and should not suffer from a storm of this nature. “

There are ongoing studies in the UK and USA into the mitigation of a solar flare’s impact on electrical systems across the world.

Power grids may still not be immune to the largest geomagnetic storms, but with mitigation plans in place, the severity of the impact would be considerably reduced.

 

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