Researchers found radioactive elements buried beneath nearly half a kilometre of ice in Greenland, which shows an “enormous” solar storm battered the planet in 660 BC. The analysis revealed the storm was 10 times more powerful than anything that has hit in the last 70 years – when scientists began monitoring solar storms. Raimund Muscheler, a professor of quaternary sciences at Lund University in Sweden, said: “What our research shows is that the observational record over the past 70 years does not give us a complete picture of what the sun can do.”
While the most serious consequences for those living in 660 BC was just a stunning display or aurora borealis or australis, northern and southern lights respectively, things would be completely different for us today.
A solar storm of such intensity would have the potential of wiping out large swathes of modern technology on Earth and could throw civilisation into disarray.
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 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 biggest storm in the technological era was the Carrington Event which occurred in September 1859.
During that solar storm, the sun unleashed a series of powerful solar flares that were so powerful telegraph operators’ offices experienced a surge in electricity which resulted in some buildings setting on fire.
Now, it could be much worse.
The team write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: “A solar proton event of such magnitude occurring in modern times could result in severe disruption of satellite-based technologies, high frequency radio communication and space-based navigation systems.”