Evidence found of massive solar storm

An artist’s illustration of events on the Sun changing the conditions in near Earth space. Image credit NASA

An artist’s illustration of events on the Sun changing the conditions in near Earth space. Image credit NASA

The contemporary studies indicate that a third familiar instance of an enormous solar storm anteceding in time has been found via unintended inspection in nature's own annals.

Luckily though, it was 660BC so that's where we were anyway.

Scientists just found evidence of one of the largest solar storms ever detected, which hit Earth roughly 2,600 years ago, in an unlikely place: Greenland's ice cores. They said that depending on the form it took, a repeat could cripple communications.

"If that solar storm had occurred today, it could have had severe effects on our high-tech society", says Raimund Muscheler, professor of geology at Lund University, Sweden. These events send streams of particles, which include high-energy protons, toward Earth where these interact with the planet's atmosphere.

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Sometimes, highly energetic particles are produced by our Sun, and they get accelerated by the magnetic reconnection in solar flares or by coronal mass ejections, also known as shock waves. The matter entails proof of a robust solar storm that occurred in 660 BCE. Also drawing on data recovered from the growth rings of ancient trees, the team pinpointed two further (and powerful) solar storms that took place in 775 and 994 CE. "Our event was about 10 times stronger than any high-energy event observed during the past 70 years", Muscheler told Newsweek.

For the past 70 years, researchers have studied these solar storms by direct instrumental observations, which has led to an understanding of how they can pose a risk to the electrical grid, various communication systems, satellites and air traffic. The cores come from Greenland and contain ice formed over the past 100,000 years. In modern times, large solar storms led to widespread power outages in Quebec in 1989 and Sweden in 2003 - but those storm, scientists say, pale in comparison to the one that occurred more than 2,600 years ago.

Since evidence has pointed to three massive solar storms taking place in the last 3,000 years, the scientists plan to explore more ice core samples to better understand these unusual phenomenons. The discovery means that the worst-case scenarios used in risk planning for serious space weather events underestimate how powerful solar storms can be, he said.

This finding should motivate us to review the possibility that a similar event will take place sooner or later - and we should prepare. Researchers are still a ways away from definitive estimates-but studying these prehistoric storms might be our best bet at forecasting future flare-ups. The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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