A powerful solar storm could take Earth into the Dark Ages by pushing satellites out of their orbits

                When the sun reaches its peak solar activity, it is frightening to imagine the devastation that a powerful solar storm can wreak on Earth.  Notably, it can even destroy communications systems by moving satellites out of their orbit.
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The first half of 2022 was filled with solar storms that hit the Earth. Some have even reached the intensity of a G3 solar storm, which can disable GPS systems and cause radio outages. But as the sun moves toward its solar maximum, the peak of its solar cycle, scientists are concerned about whether a much stronger storm is in the making. Historically, Earth has been periodically hit by G5 solar storms, the most powerful storms we know of. However, it has been a while since these powerful storms came our way. The last recorded G5 solar storm was in 1859 in a terrible event known as the Carrington event. Now, more than 160 years later, Earth is behind another major solar catastrophe.

The Carrington event is a historic milestone in solar studies because the upcoming solar storm caused an unprecedented level of damage that was not expected earlier. Telegraph systems, which used to be the primary method of long-distance communication, have failed completely, with different parts of the world reporting sparks and damage to instruments. Electricity networks were also disrupted, resulting in hours and days without electricity. But if a similar storm occurred today, the damage could be significantly higher.

How satellites increase the risk of powerful solar storms

Compared to the year 1859, we have advanced by leaps and bounds in technology and are highly dependent on wireless satellite communications in the form of internet, mobile phone networks, navigation systems, radar technology etc. And satellites are our weak point in the event of a solar storm. A few months ago, Elon Musk lost 40 of its Starlink satellites to a solar storm. That was a small G2 solar storm.

It is believed that a G5-class solar storm could be so powerful that it could push even the largest of the Earth’s orbiting satellites. While scientists add insulators to satellites to protect them from severe damage from solar storms, thrust isn’t something the satellites can prevent. Pushing you away may seem like a small problem, but these satellites have been put into orbit after careful consideration and shifting can cause transmission to distort or even fail.

This means that a powerful solar storm could put an end to internet connectivity, mobile networks and navigation systems. If that happens, most of our emergency services, transportation and communications systems will experience disruptions and lead to disaster on Earth. Couple that with a power grid failure could really take us back to the dark ages.

At present, we have nothing to protect us from such contingencies. However, this is why scientists are focusing on building better prediction models for the sun, since with enough time, satellites can be moved to the night side of the Earth to protect it from any severe damage.

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