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Solar 'superstorm' expected to hit Earth soon

Press Trust of India
Feb 07, 2013 at 05:06pm IST

London: A solar 'megastorm', expected to hit Earth in the near future, could knock out the planet's communication satellites, cause power cuts and disrupt crucial navigation aids and aircraft avionics, experts have warned. The extreme space storm is caused by the Sun ejecting billions of tonnes of highly-energetic matter travelling at 1609344 kilometres per hour.

However, engineers say it is impossible to predict more than about 30 minutes before it actually happens, 'The Independent' reported. Such solar superstorms are estimated to occur once every 100 or 200 years, with the last one hitting the Earth in 1859. Although none has occurred in the space age, we are far more vulnerable now than a century ago because of the ubiquity of modern electronics, engineers said.

"The general consensus is that a solar superstorm is inevitable, a matter not of 'if' but 'when?'," says a report into extreme space weather by a group of experts at the Royal Academy of Engineering in London.

Solar 'superstorm' expected to hit Earth soon

However, engineers say it is impossible to predict more than about 30 minutes before it actually happens.

There have been a number of "near misses" in the past half century, when an explosive "coronal mass ejection" of energetic matter from the Sun narrowly bypassed the Earth. A relatively minor solar storm in 1989 knocked out several key electrical transformers in the Canadian national grid, causing major power blackouts.

Similar solar storms significantly increased atmospheric radiation levels in 1956, 1972, 1989 and 2003, the experts found. Professor Paul Cannon, who chaired the academy's working group on solar storms, said that the Government should set up a space weather board to oversee measures aimed at minimising the impact of solar storms.

"A solar superstorm will be a challenge but not cataclysmic. The two challenges for government are the wide spectrum of technologies affected today and the emergence of unexpected vulnerabilities as technology evolves," he said.

"Our message is, 'Don't panic, but do prepare'. A solar superstorm will happen one day and we need to be ready for it."

"Many steps have already been taken to minimise the impact of solar storms on current technology. We anticipate that the UK can further minimise the impact," he added.

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