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Solar Storm Expected to Hit Earth Soon Could Cause Power Grid, Satellite, and Internet Disruptions

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Moderator comment: The following is posted as an exception to CL policy because of the potential global impact of this solar flare super storm on power grids and communications infrastructure, including the Internet.



Aurora borealis, or northern lights, fill the sky on March 13, 2011 over Finnmark, northern Norway. (Tore Meek/AFP via Getty Images)

Solar Storm Expected to Hit Earth Soon Could Cause Power Grid, Satellite Disruptions: Agency

October 11, 2021 Updated: October 11, 2021

A geomagnetic storm caused by a solar flare is slated to impact Earth this week, potentially causing disruptions to power grids and satellite communications, according to the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center.

The agency, which is run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, issued a geomagnetic storm watch, noting that “moderate” conditions could be possible on Monday and Tuesday “due to the anticipated arrival of a CME,” or coronal mass ejection from the sun.

The CME could impact power grids around 55 degrees latitude, potentially triggering power grid fluctuations with voltage alarms at higher latitudes, according to the Space Weather agency.

Meanwhile, satellite “orientation irregularities” may occur, the agency said, adding that “high-frequency radio propagation can fade at higher latitudes.” The storm may increase the drag on low-Earth orbiters, said the bulletin.

The aurora borealis, or northern lights, could be seen as low as New York, Washington state, and Wisconsin, said the agency.

The UK Met Office weather agency wrote that aurora borealis sightings are “possible through [the] 11th across much of Scotland, although cloud amounts are increasing, meaning sightings are unlikely.”

“There is a slight chance of aurora reaching the far north of England and Northern Ireland tonight, but cloud breaks and therefore sightings are more likely in Northern Ireland,” the office added.

In 1859, an incident known as the Carrington Event triggered widespread disruptions to the telegraph systems around Europe and North America in what is believed to be the largest solar storm ever recorded. A similar storm nowadays would trigger a catastrophic scenario and significant damage worldwide.

University of California Irvine Assistant Professor Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi warned in September that a solar “superstorm” could “cause large-scale Internet outages covering the entire globe and lasting several months.”

“Our [internet] infrastructure is not prepared for a large-scale solar event,” Jyothi told Wired magazine in August, noting there would be widespread blackouts, traffic jams, and a further breakdown in the worldwide supply chain. “What really got me thinking about this is that with the pandemic we saw how unprepared the world was. There was no protocol to deal with it effectively, and it’s the same with internet resilience,” he continued.



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  • Moderator_02 changed the title to Solar Storm Expected to Hit Earth Soon Could Cause Power Grid, Satellite and Internet Disruptions
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Solar ‘superstorm’ could prompt ‘internet apocalypse,’ global outages

September 22, 2021 1:04pm 

Ninety-three million miles away, a solar storm brews with the power to prompt an “internet apocalypse,” according to recent findings.

University of California Irvine assistant professor Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi presented the new research last month during the Association for Computing Machinery’s annual conference for their Special Interest Group on Data Communication (SIGCOMM).

In the report, Jyothi warned that an unmitigated solar “superstorm” could “cause large-scale Internet outages covering the entire globe and lasting several months” — pointing to inadequacies in submarine cables, a major component of internet infrastructure.

Most of the time, we’re protected from the sun’s constant littering of radiation, called “solar wind,” thanks to the ionosphere, otherwise known as Earth’s magnetic shield. With nowhere to go, those magnetic particles are pulled to the North and South Poles, producing awe-inspiring auroras before dissipating.

But sometimes, solar flares kick up what’s called a coronal mass ejection (CME), a solar storm strong enough to penetrate our shield and wreak havoc on just about anything powered with electromagnetism — which just about runs the world.

It has been estimated that the potential damage caused by a disastrous CME in 2012, which only narrowly missed Earth, would have cost the US alone up to $2.6 trillion.

“Our [internet] infrastructure is not prepared for a large-scale solar event,” Jyothi told Wired recently, ticking off the consequences: widespread blackouts, mass traffic jams and a breakdown in the global supply chain, to name a few.

“Solar wind” from the sun is blocked by Earth’s magnetic shield, causing those geomagnetic particles to disperse toward either the North or South Pole — which produces an aurora.
Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Local and regional internet infrastructure often relies on optical fiber, which isn’t affected by geomagnetic currents, or grounded short-span cables, which are by nature protected from an electromagnetic surge. But it’s a different story with undersea cables, which connect continents via the internet. While the cables themselves aren’t vulnerable, the electronic repeaters therein, which help amplify the optical signal, are susceptible to damage by geomagnetically induced currents. If enough repeaters blow out, the whole line could be shot.

For some countries, damage to these mainline cables may cut their connectivity at the source — not to mention potential damage to satellites, which enable internet for many.

It’s happened before, researchers have said. In 1921, a solar storm sparked fires in electrical equipment across the world, from train station control rooms to telegraph dispatch centers. Again, in 1989, a solar storm of moderate severity knocked the power out in northeast Canada for nine hours — still before the rise of internet-based infrastructure.

Jeffrey Love, a geophysicist in the geomagnetism program of the US Geological Survey, told the Independent that the impact of that 1921 New York Railroad Storm would be much greater today.

“When we look back at this time, anything that’s related to electricity wasn’t as important in 1921 as it is today,” he said.

In an interview for NextGov.com in May, Dr. Scott McIntosh, deputy director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Dana A. Goward, president of the Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation, that the sun’s current electromagnetic cycle, which lasts about 11 years, is projected to be a doozy.

“We have every reason to believe that the current solar cycle which began in December 2019 could be the most active since the 1970s. This is a particular concern for the GPS,” said McIntosh, who estimated a 35% to 45% chance a CME will disrupt Global Positioning System service, for potentially several days, sometime during the next decade.

He continued, “Strong solar storms can charge the atmosphere and prevent signals from getting through for days. The strongest can damage or even destroy satellites.”

Researchers, as well as lawmakers, have discussed GPS alternatives in the past, prompting Congress to pass the National Timing Resilience and Security Act in 2018, asking the Department of Transportation to devise terrestrial backup for global navigation services, in the event satellites are rendered useless. Despite concerns, no progress has been made, according to RNT’s Goward.

“Even with the most concerted government efforts, five or six years will be needed to establish systems and encourage, or where needed, require, users to protect themselves and vital services,” warned Goward. “Such a timeline will take us well into the coming solar danger zone.”

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