A strong solar storm can literally destroy the Internet

Unfortunately, this is not a hypothesis, but a matter of concern to scientists who have recently published research on this topic.

The earth is constantly under the influence of the so-called “solar wind”, ie the flow of magnetically charged high-energy particles emitted by the sun. However, this has no negative effect on our lives, because we are protected by the planet’s magnetic field, which acts as a space shield that reflects the sun’s particles and directs them toward the poles, leading to a well-known phenomenon. like the northern lights.

Unfortunately, sometimes, almost every century, the Sun comes in the so-called “crown mass”, ie giant flames that emit excessive amounts of particles on the surface. Then the “solar wind” turns into a real storm. Scientists have long warned of such a possibility and called for preparations. As early as 2008, the American Academy of Sciences conducted an analysis showing that such an event could deprive many people around the world of electricity and permanently damage electronic devices.

At this year’s conference, which brings together experts in digital communications and SIGCOMM 2021, the effects of extreme “solar air” will simply have catastrophic consequences for our entire civilization. Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi, an associate professor at the University of California, Irvine, in an article entitled “Solar Superstorms: Planning for an Internet Apocalypse,” said that a large-scale solar flare could literally cause an “Internet Apocalypse” that would cause millions of people. and access to the Internet will be restricted to institutions around the world. Of course, without access to social networking sites and similar services, mankind would not have ceased to exist, but it is important to remember that today everything is more or less based on the exchange of information via the Internet. Aircraft control, rail traffic control, electricity, gas and water supply, production and distribution of essential goods, all of which could not be done effectively without an Internet connection and the use of computers. In 2021, when almost all of us have a computer in our pocket, this is a clear cliché. We do not think about it every day, but the moment may come when we will painfully learn how much the activity of our civilization is based on devices and processes that are sensitive to damage during a solar storm.

As the author Abdu Jyothi puts it, “What made me think about all this was that we saw how unprepared the world was during the pandemic. There was no protocol to deal with it effectively, as well as the resilience of the Internet and our entire electronic infrastructure, which is not fully prepared for a large-scale solar event.

Part of the problem is that extreme sunstorms are rare, so you don’t have to worry about them. According to scientists, the estimated probability of extreme solar events that could directly affect our civilization is only 1.6-12% every decade. This is confirmed by historical experience. So far, only two strong solar storms have been recorded. The first took place in 1859, the second in 1921. An earlier event, known as the Carrington Incident, caused magnetic disturbances on Earth to be so severe that telegraph wires caused sparks and auroras, usually seen only near the poles, were observed as far as the equator!

It may be optimistic that most local and regional Internet connections, which are increasingly based on optical fibers, are not exposed to the increasing geomagnetic currents that occur during solar emissions. However, the internet is also based on submarine cables connecting the continents. These cables are equipped with special amplifiers, whose task is to keep the signal at the appropriate level. Unfortunately, these devices are very sensitive to geomagnetic currents, so if only one amplifier fails, all the cables can become unusable.

If enough submarine cables in one area suddenly stop working, then all the continents can be cut off from each other. In addition, high-latitude countries, such as the United States, Japan, or largely all European countries, are more sensitive to changes in solar weather than societies close to the equator.

“The economic impact of a one-day internet outage in the United States alone is estimated at more than $ 7 billion,” Abdu Jyothi wrote in the article. “What if the network doesn’t work for days or even months in many parts of the world?” ? “the author then asks. In the end, he added that if a strong solar storm occurs

He added that when the next big solar storm occurs, we will have about 13 hours to prepare for it. We hope that measures will be taken as soon as possible to protect it as much as possible from its possible consequences. Because in this case, the question is not “if”, but “when”.

Source: Solar Storms: Planning the Internet Apocalypse

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