A gigantic solar storm hit Earth about 2,600 years ago, one about 10 times stronger than any solar storm recorded in the modern day, a new study finds.
These findings suggest that such explosions recur regularly in Earth’s history, and could wreak havoc if they were to hit now, given how dependent the world has become on electricity.
The sun can bombard Earth with explosions of highly energetic particles known as solar proton events. These “proton storms” can endanger people and electronics both in space and in the air.
In addition, when a proton storm hits Earth’s magnetosphere — the shell of electrically charged particles — it is trapped by Earth’s magnetic field. When the solar storm causes a disturbance in our planet’s magnetosphere, it’s called a geomagnetic storm which can wreak devastation on power grids across the planet. For example, in 1989, a solar outburst blacked out the entire Canadian province of Quebec within seconds, damaging transformers as far away as New Jersey, and nearly shutting down U.S. power grids from the mid-Atlantic through the Pacific Northwest.