Earth narrowly escaped one of the most massive magnetic solar bursts ever on July 23, 2012, a scientist with University of California, Berkeley revealed on Wednesday – saving the planet from widespread disaster.
“Had it hit Earth, it probably would have been like the big one in 1859, but the effect today, with our modern technologies, would have been tremendous,” UC Berkeley research physicist Janet G. Luhmann said in a press release.
According to researchers, had the quick succession of coronal mass ejections – the most intense kind of solar eruptions – come just nine days earlier, it would have hit Earth. This would have potentially disabled satellites and GPS and the electrical grid.
A study from 2013 revealed that a solar storm like the one Earth narrowly escaped could have cost up to $2.6 trillion in damages. A similar event took place in March 1989 and caused Canada’s Hydro-Quebec power grid to collapse, leaving six million people without electricity for nine hours.
“The cost of an extreme space weather event, if it hits Earth, could reach trillions of dollars with a potential recovery time of 4-10 years,” professor at China’s State Key Laboratory of Space Weather Ying D. Liu warned in a press release. “Therefore, it is paramount to the security and economic interest of the modern society to understand solar superstorms.”
Liu and Luhmann said it is critical to continue research of the magnetic fields of the sun and Earth to better understand what causes these dangerous solar storms.
“Observations of solar superstorms have been extremely lacking and limited, and our current understanding of solar superstorms is very poor,” Liu said. “Questions fundamental to solar physics and space weather, such as how extreme events form and evolve and how severe it can be at the Earth, are not addressed because of the extreme lack of observations.”