Solar storm could cause ‘catastrophic damage’ to UK

A stream of solar particles heading from the Sun to Earth could lead to technological problems. Solar storms can be detrimental to satellite-based technology as they can heat the Earth’s outer atmosphere, causing it to expand and making it more difficult for satellite signals to reach the ground.

Experts have stated solar winds topping speeds of 600 kilometres a second are heading to Earth, and could spark a G1 storm.

A G1 class solar storm can lead to “weak power grid fluctuations” and can have a “minor impact on satellite operations”.

Astronomy site Space Weather stated: “Earth is entering a stream of solar wind flowing from a northern hole in the sun’s atmosphere.

“Forecasters expect wind speeds to top 600 km/s on Jan. 20-21, possibly fast enough to spark a minor G1-class geomagnetic storm. Arctic auroras are likely.”

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Auroras, which include northern lights – aurora borealis – and southern lights – aurora australis – are caused when solar particles hit the atmosphere.

As the planet’s magnetosphere gets bombarded by solar winds, stunning lights of various hues can appear in the northern and southernmost regions.

While this storm is expected to have little effect on Earth, scientists have warned that a major technology-crippling solar storm could happen on average every 25 years.

Research from the University of Warwick and the British Antarctic Survey analysed the last 14 solar cycles, dating back 150 years.

The analysis showed that “severe” magnetic storms occurred in 42 out of the last 150 years, and “great” super-storms occurred in six years out of 150.

The last great solar storm came in 1989 when a major power outage occurred in Quebec, Canada.

And another major storm triggered by a large coronal mass ejection (CME) from the Sun narrowly missed our planet in 2012.

Researchers believe if the storm had hit Earth, it could have downed technology on our planet.

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Lead author Professor Sandra Chapman, from the University of Warwick’s Centre for Fusion, Space and Astrophysics, said: “These super-storms are rare events but estimating their chance of occurrence is an important part of planning the level of mitigation needed to protect critical national infrastructure.

“This research proposes a new method to approach historical data, to provide a better picture of the chance of occurrence of super-storms and what super-storm activity we are likely to see in the future.”

The biggest technology-crippling solar storm came in 1859, when a surge in electricity during what is now known as the Carrington Event, which was so strong that telegraph systems went down across Europe.

There are also reports that some buildings set on fire as a result of the electrical surge.

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