The Sun is crucial to life on Earth but it is also a real and present danger to our lifestyle. The release of solar storms can affect satellite communications and damage infrastructures we rely on every day.
Understanding, predicting, and securing technologies against extreme space weather is urgent and the European Union Joint Research Centre has released a report on the impact of such an event and what governments and industries should be working on to make our world impervious to geomagnetic storms.
The researchers suggest that industries need to be aware of whether their tech can be affected by space weather, both directly or indirectly. For example, they might rely on satellites for location or communication and even a moderate storm could cause problems for both of these.
While disruption might cause significant economic damage, the most severe geomagnetic storms could cripple us. The most powerful solar storm on record, the 1859 Carrington event, was responsible for fires in telegraph stations across the US. The damage was limited to the technology of the time but it is estimated that the bill for such an event today would be in the trillions of dollars.
Such an event would easily overwhelm what a single nation can cope with and the team stressed the importance of strengthening the link already in place between the US and Europe for predicting potential storms. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the Sun and being able to forecast space weather is one of those knowledge gaps we need to fill. We might miss the big one otherwise.
The report also calls for a vulnerability assessment of the whole European power network and a better link between governments, scientists, and industry to put in place strategies to overcome such potential challenges.
The report collected the findings from the Space Weather and Critical Infrastructures meeting, attended by European governments, crisis-response experts, academics, the European Space Agency, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the US State Department among others.
Intense solar storms don’t happen often but prevention and knowledge need to be sorted ahead of time for the good of us all. And if you still need convincing, consider that once a solar storm almost started World War III.