Had the massive 2012 solar flare event not been a "near miss," the Earth would have been knocked back to the 18th century.
A powerful solar storm nearly hit the Earth two years ago; had the event happened only one week earlier, it would not have missed, says Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado.
"If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces," Baker said. "In my view the July 2012 storm was in all respects at least as strong as the 1859 Carrington event," says Baker. "The only difference is, it missed."
The Carrignton event to which Baker refers was the most powerful solar storm in recorded history. In the wake of the event, intense geomagnetic storms lit up the sky with auroras borealis as far south as Cuba, telegraph lines sparked with electricity, and some telegraph offices even caught fire. With telegraph systems disabled, the "Victorian Internet" was effectively taken offline by the Carrignton event.
Today, a similar storm could have an economic impact in excess of $2 trillion, according to a study by the National Academy of Sciences. To put that in perspective, that's 20 times greater than the costs of Hurricane Katrina. Large transformers damaged by the event could take years to repair.
Physicist Pete Riley analyzed historical records of solar storms, extrapolated frequency data, and calculated the odds that a Carrington-class storm would hit Earth in the next decade. His results? 12 percent.
"Initially, I was quite surprised that the odds were so high, but the statistics appear to be correct," says Riley. "It is a sobering figure."
Earlier this year, a massive solar flare that missed Earth could have caused planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms, had it hit us.
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Source: NASA Science News