Solar storms have the potential to be highly disruptive.
The last time a coronal mass ejection from the sun hit the Earth was in 1859, a time long before computers, airplanes, mobile phones and many of the other things that we now take for granted.
These days however a large solar storm has the potential to wreak havoc – so much so that the UK government has released a new report designed to assess the impact that such an event could have and to determine what should be done to mitigate the damage as much as possible.
One of the biggest concerns put forward by the report is that, while detection of an approaching storm is possible, the detection time may simply be insufficient to prepare for it.
“Generally speaking, the faster the ejection, the greater the potential impacts,” the report authors wrote. “The Carrington event (of 1859), for example, travelled to Earth in as little as 18 hours.”
“It is therefore likely that our reasonable worst case scenario would only allow us 12 hours from observation to impact.”
The report also emphasized the need for more effective contingency plans and safeguards.
“Much more needs to be done to encourage potentially vulnerable sectors to adopt measures to mitigate the likely impacts,” it states. “Preparation is needed to the national level, with the support of local capabilities to deal with the consequences. This all requires international co-ordination.”