In September 1859, the sun unleashed a series of powerful solar flares that were so powerful telegraph operators’ offices experienced a surge in electricity which resulted on some buildings setting on fire.
The solar storm, which is known as the Carrington Event, which hit 160 years ago was so powerful that its southern auroras could be seen as far north as Queensland in Australia and northern auroras were seen as far south as Cuba.
Researchers now believe the event was not a one-off and the sun could be set to release a storm just as powerful.
A study published in the journal Advancing Earth and Space Sciences has calculated that Carrington-type solar storms should occur roughly every one hundred years, meaning we are long overdue.
And today, in a modern world so dependent on technology, the implications would be far more severe.
The research states that there should be an X-45 solar flare every century.
X-class solar flares are the most powerful that the sun releases.
There are five different categories – A, B,C, M and X and each one is 10 times more powerful than the previous.
The number alongside the category – in this instance 45 – is an indicator of just how powerful it is.
A C category solar storm is powerful enough to cause auroras on Earth, so an X-class has the potential to ruin technology.
The research paper says: “A ‘reasonable’ worst case would be to consider X45 as a one in 100 year event.”
Solar storms wreak havoc on global technology as the radiation which pummels our planet heats up the outer atmosphere, causing it to expand.
This means that satellite signals will struggle to penetrate the swollen atmosphere, leading to a lack of Internet service, GPS navigation, satellite TV such as Sky and mobile phone signal.
Additionally, increased currents in the Earth’s magnetic field – or magnetosphere – could theoretically lead to a surge of electricity in power lines, which can blow out electrical transformers and power stations leading to a temporary loss of electricity.
The higher amounts of radiation also leave people vulnerable to cancer.