Can a magnetic hurricane destroy the internet?

The magnetic activity of the sun can affect the operation of electronic devices on Earth. How strong can this effect be? In extreme cases, a magnetic hurricane can threaten the connection and operation of the devices that form the basis of our daily activities. As scary as it may sound, it’s worth taking a deep breath and seeing what science has to say about it.

A magnetic hurricane can actually hurt us

Information about the potential end of the world is usually a way to get traffic quickly. Some events can be a real threat to our civilization. One of the most dangerous factors is the activity of the sun; It is still a strong force, although it is quite predictable and not very dense compared to other types of stars. The main task of the sun on earth is to provide a stable energy supply for our planet, but sometimes it can be severe and potentially very harmful.

What is a magnetic hurricane?

The earth has its own magnetosphere – a magnetic field that protects us from many dangers in space. However, it is sensitive to the effects of solar activity. As our star begins to release large amounts of mass rapidly, the so-called corona mass drop (CME) can have a significant impact on events on Earth. Plasma reaching our planet causes short-term changes in the Earth’s magnetic field. In practice, this affects the operation of the Internet and energy infrastructure, as well as communications GPS. These are technologies whose operation is largely based on the principles of magnetism.

Can we predict a magnetic storm?

The sun itself helps to predict when a more serious solar storm will occur. Our star is experiencing a systematic turn, ie changing the magnetic poles of the places. Of course, this is due to the magnetic force – another part of the riddle related to solar activity. There is a very important connection between the occurrence of magnetic storms, the increasing magnetic activity of our star and its polarity.

The influence of the Sun’s polarity affects not only the Earth, but also the entire solar system. The effects of changes in the activity of our star can be felt even far away from Pluto.

How many years does the sun change?

The time intervals between polar changes are surprisingly short – we have been talking for only 11 years. The last such incident occurred in 2012 and 2013 – the first “moved” to the North Pole, and about a year later to the South Pole. This means that the next polarization of the Sun will occur in 2023 and 2024, which is quite close. However, we will systematically observe changes in the activity of the Sun; severe storms will not necessarily occur. Moreover, we always observe changes in the Sun’s influence on our planet.

This millennium magnetic hurricane has not yet caught us, but it can change

In the annals of our history, magnetic hurricanes have been recorded quite often. This event first manifested itself in 1859, during the so-called Carrington storm. During this special magnetic storm, numerous equipment fires occurred in the telegraph network, supporting global malfunctions and data exchange. In the 1920’s, we had to deal with magnetic storms that disrupted radio operations. In contrast, in 1989, a magnetic storm in Quebec City, Canada, cut off people’s electricity. The magnetic storms we will experience in the coming years – because sooner or later they will definitely happen – but will have worse consequences..

Northern lights are an effective but harmless sign of the Sun’s increasing magnetic activity.

Will there be a strong magnetic storm in 2021 or 2022?

It should be noted that higher infrastructure development is also associated with more noticeable effects of solar storms. From this point of view, the future may not look so bright. Solar activity can be expected to increase in 2022-2026. Perhaps this will allow us to develop devices that will reduce the impact of magnetic interactions on our planet. So far, our existing infrastructure has not faced severe and strong magnetic storms. At a time when the Internet was conquering the Earth, the activity of the sun was very mild. The main determinant in this matter is the sunspots, which were very rare at that time.

However, it seems that our “good series” is coming to an end. This is a recovery period from minimal solar activity (including fluctuations in the cycle itself) associated with the greatest risk of a major magnetic storm.. It is possible that in this decade we will face a real solar storm that will cause a lot of damage to our infrastructure. The probability of such an event is estimated at several to ten percent, which is quite high for the space scale of a magnetic hurricane.

Internet cataclysm – what could be the scenario of a severe hurricane on the Earth?

However, there is some good news – we can predict a strong storm a few or a few dozen hours before it happens. We are talking only about high-precision calculations; we better assess whether such an event will occur. However, information about a magnetic hurricane alone does not give us much advantage. Currently, there are no serious procedures for working with ISPs in this situation. Such an announcement is likely to lead to chaos and an attempt by the “underground” themselves to take any action, such as cutting off power or hiding routers. However, such actions will be moderate – Large communication lines such as intercontinental cables will be most at risk. A magnetic hurricane must be really strong to affect connections with a narrow operating strip.

It’s a good idea to stay calm during a magnetic storm

The magnetic storm will affect the activities of popular news channels such as Facebook. This means more chaos – people who are disconnected from the network will feel really threatened. In addition, it can be difficult to get help at such a time – if our basic communication services are “collapsed”, you may have trouble contacting the fire department, police or health care.

This may be the first time in the history of our civilization that we will be exposed to a global threat from space. This, in turn, will create a lot of fear and doubt – we are probably talking about the scale of the current pandemic. However, it is a more severe and less deadly threat. Loss of control over society by the bodies responsible for the activities of states can be a big problem. People may begin to experience global panic. Therefore, it will be very important to get our devices fully operational as soon as possible. It will not be easy, but fortunately we will be able to do it quickly enough. Magnetic storms are severe – they happen quickly, but do not last very long.

How long will it take, and how will we “get up on our knees” after the magnetic storm?

It is not advisable to rebuild the infrastructure during a storm – this can lead to a serious risk of damage. Only after the “transition” of the magnetic storm will it be possible to take measures to rebuild our communication infrastructure. A magnetic hurricane can last a maximum of several days – on this scale, sun exposure is unlikely to last long.. The end of the magnetic hurricane does not mean the end of our problems – when this happens, we will have a lot of time to rebuild the infrastructure.

Some connections will probably be repaired, others will become the domain of the past and will be replaced by new links. The effects of communications on Earth alone (for example, for large networks connecting countries) will not be long-lasting. The condition of the satellites is worse. It may happen that many of them will stop working properly and you will have to send a really large number to get the basic services up and running as before. Without them, the operation of Internet and GPS systems will be difficult, which means not only the exchange of information, but also interruptions in the exchange of goods.

If there is a sudden disruption in the structure of our communication, it is worthwhile to remain calm. Global crises cause great losses not only through the biological and physical events we are moderately affected by, but also by human reactions. We have a big impact on the latter – so it’s worth giving people transparent and accurate information about magnetic storms and the scale of the threat.. Thanks to this, we will save ourselves from all the phenomena of the “toilet crisis” of early 2020 – an unreasonable rush to apparent security.

Will a magnetic hurricane affect our “biology”?

Although it has a serious negative impact on computer equipment, magnetic storms should not have any special effects on the human body.. Our activity is not strongly associated with magnetic interactions – so there is no reason to be afraid of “frying” under the influence of solar activity.

Some terrestrial organisms may potentially experience the negative effects of a magnetic hurricane. For example, we are talking about birds that use the magnet of our planet for navigation. Interestingly, these organisms have adapted to the possibility of astronomical events, such as magnetic storms. Some of them become more active during the day when they can move mainly with their eyes, avoiding confrontation with disturbances in the perception of the magnetic field. It should be borne in mind that a large number of species (even flying ones) may be ineffective from a magnetic hurricane; Moreover, extensive research has not yet been conducted in this area.

Sources: own research, Science Focus, Wired, The Mercury News, Encyclopedia Britannica, The Royal Society Publishing

Title photo: Magnetic Storm, August 1-2, 2010; Source: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

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