Published: Wed, March 13, 2019
Research | By Raquel Erickson

'Enormous' solar storm struck Earth more than 2,600 years ago

'Enormous' solar storm struck Earth more than 2,600 years ago

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.

Professor Raimund Muscheler, from Lund University in Sweden, said: "If that solar storm had occurred today, it could have had severe effects on our hi-tech society".

The only account of a "super storm" striking Earth comes from more than 150 years ago - when a Victorian scientist, Richard Carrington, described an eruption known as "the Carrington event". The new, worldwide study, led by researchers from Lund University, used ice cores to find clues about previous solar storms.

The radiation and magnetic shockwave unleashed from a solar storm "of such magnitude occurring in modern times could result in severe disruption of satellite-based technologies, high-frequency radio communication, and space-based navigation systems", the study said.

The sun is constantly sending a stream of charged particles toward Earth via the solar wind.

The team made this observation after studying a band of radioactive elements, unleashed by a storm that struck the planet in 660 BC, preserved in the ice almost half a kilometre beneath the surface. With these ice samples, the team was able to find out when our planet was hit by the sun's high-energy cosmic waves and how it might have altered Earth at that time, noted.

New research indicates that solar storms can be even more powerful than measurements have shown so far via direct observations.

Researchers found radioactive elements buried beneath almost half a kilometre of ice in Greenland, which shows an "enormous" solar storm battered the planet in 660 BC.

In the past, scientists have used ice cores to locate two other major solar storms, one which took place in 775 AD and another in 994 AD.

"The first discovery of such an event was quite recent", Muscheler said.

"That's why we must increase society's protection against solar storms", he says. The upshot is that these heavy storms are occurring more regularly than we thought they were, and can be more powerful than anything we've seen in the modern era, and that affects contingency planning.

Explaining what this means for the risk posed, he said we now have three very big events taking place in the past 3,000 years. "Assets in space, including satellites and humans, need to be protected, and even systems on the ground are at risk from large solar events".

The effects of a'super solar storm' on our technological world could be devastating, burning out power stations, cutting water supplies, and leaving satellites dead in the skies.

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