How Solar Storm can cause internet blackout for several days or months?

A paper presented at the ACM SIGCOMM 2021 Conference last month had put a limelight on a fact that solar storm can cause a disruption of the internet, damage submarine cable, electrical wires and communication satellites including throughout the world. Some studies have indicated the 1.6-2% possibility of having this extreme space weather event in the next decade.

Solar Storm which is also known as Geomagnetic storm is a temporary disturbance of magnetosphere caused by a solar wind shock wave or cloud of magnetic field that interacts with Earth’s magnetic field. The highly magnetised particles from the sun can travel in speed of several million kilometres per hour can take about 13 hours to 5 days to reach Earth.

Next Solar Storm event can lead to “internet apocalypse”

Although, Earth’s atmosphere is capable of protecting humans from these particles but the particles can interact with Earth’s magnetic field, induce strong electric current on the surface and man made structures.

The first ever solar storm occurred in 1859 and reached Earth in about 17 hours. The solar storm affected the telegraph network. Similar solar storm occurred in 1921 which impacted the New York’s telegraph line and railroad system. It is estimated by the scientists that if a solar storm similar to the 1859 hit the earth, about 20-40 million people would be without power for 1-2 years, and total economic cost would be in trillions of dollars.

In last few decades, the sun’s solar activity was really low due to which humans have made significant strides in technology without facing any hurdles from any extreme space weather events, but in future, if Earth is hit by a solar storm, our current communication infrastructure can survive it or not is uncertain.

The only way we can save the internet from being damaged by the solar storm is by temporary shutting down the internet to minimise the connectivity loss during and after a solar storm impact as per research. Similar to how we switch off the power grid, temporary shut down of the internet can limit the impact and the damage of internet by the solar storm.

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