The Sydney Morning Herald

March 20, 2014

Laila Kearney

Fierce solar blasts that could have badly damaged electrical grids and disabled satellites in space narrowly missed Earth in 2012, researchers say.

 

The bursts would have wreaked havoc on the Earth’s magnetic field, matching the severity of the 1859 Carrington event, the largest solar magnetic storm ever reported on the planet. That blast knocked out the telegraph system across the United States, according to University of California, Berkeley research physicist Janet Luhmann.

 

“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,” Luhmann said.

 

A series of images from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory show the first moments of an X-class significant solar flare in different wavelengths of light. Flares are often related to coronal mass ejections.A series of images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory show the first moments of an X-class significant solar flare in different wavelengths of light. Flares are often related to coronal mass ejections. Photo: Reuters

 

A 2013 study estimated a solar storm like the Carrington Event could take a $US2.6 trillion bite out of the current global economy.

 

Massive bursts of solar wind and magnetic fields, shot into space on July 23, 2012, would have been aimed directly at Earth if they had happened nine days earlier, Luhmann said.

 

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