This Solar Storm Could Cause $10 Trillion in Damage

Monday, 13 November 2017 - 2:16PM
Astrophysics
Sun
Monday, 13 November 2017 - 2:16PM
This Solar Storm Could Cause $10 Trillion in Damage
Image credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons
It's not a question of if—it's a question of when. As our technology continues to advance, we're becoming increasingly vulnerable to immense damage from solar flares.

Solar flares, known to interrupt radio and satellite communication, are not unheard of—but scientists are expressing that an extreme solar weather event could result in an e-apocalypse that would fry tech on a global scale.

And a group of researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics estimates there's a likely chance a violent solar flare will impact Earth sometime in the next decade.



A flare could release an amount of energy that is equal to about a sixth of all the energy the sun releases in a second. According to a 2009 report by the Space Studies Board, such a blast could lead to a collective worldwide economic loss of $10 trillion in technological damage around the world, knocking out power grids and all electronic communication and commerce. It would take several years to repair such destruction.

Before assuming this is all some theoretical speculation, think about what took place September 1, 1859 during what is known as "The Carrington Event."

The name comes from the work of amateur astronomer Richard Carrington, who noted sunspots that morning from his personal observatory near London.

Through his telescope, he witnessed powerful bright eruptions from the sunspots. Hours later, sparks were shooting from telegraph machines and auroras flickered across night skies, reportedly so bright that morning birds were chirping in response. 



It's estimated that the Carrington Event solar flare was possessed energy equal to 10 billion atomic explosions. 

Researchers Manasvi Lingam and Abraham Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics may have a devised a possible safeguard against a solar whammy.

The two published a paper in September titled "Impact and mitigation strategy for future solar flares," which would entail the construction of a "magnetic shield to deflect charged particles," placed at the Lagrange point between the Earth and the Sun, the place in space where their gravitational forces combine to create an equilibrium that can serve as a serviceable place to balance a spacecraft. (The Deep Space Climate Observatory and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory are currently there.)

However, such a defense would be in the ballpark of $100 billion to construct, which—as the Lingam/Loeb paper notes—is comparable in value to the total cost of the International Space Station.

Such a price tag may seem staggering, but the researchers also suggest that the monetary cost of a solar flare 150 years in the future "would equal that of the current GDP of the USA."
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This Solar Storm Could Cause $10 Trillion in Damage
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