Solar Superstorm Threat Sparks Months-Long Internet Blackout

As of Nov 11, 2023, Scientists warns of a potential solar superstorm causing an “internet apocalypse” with months-long outages. Electrically charged matter may disrupt global infrastructure, from satellite communications to power grids and undersea internet cables. While undersea cables are electrically immune, repeaters every 30-90 miles, amplifying signals, pose vulnerability.

Dr. Sangeetha Jyothi, a professor at the University of California Irvine, warns that this scenario could come to pass sometime in the coming years.

Experts fear solar superstorms and other natural disasters threaten the internet and dependent economies. Scientists emphasize the importance of proper preparation to avert this disastrous future.

Solar Superstorm Impacts on Global Internet and Economy

Solar Superstorm
  • Solar storm-induced charged matter disrupts satellite communications, power grids, and undersea internet cables.
  • Massive solar storms can damage the power grid, disrupt the internet, affect GPS, and create auroras.
  • The 1859 Carrington Event caused global telegraph system failures.
  • A solar storm disrupts worldwide communications, impacting internet service providers and high-frequency systems.
  • Currents from the storm can damage satellites, leading to disruptions in satellite-based technologies.
  • Effects of a solar storm are more pronounced near Earth’s magnetic poles.
  • Undersea cables are electrically immune, but repeaters (30-90 mile intervals) are vulnerable to solar storms.
  • Damaged repeaters can cut off international internet communications, taking weeks or months to replace.
  • Economic implications include disruptions in global supply chains, transportation, internet, and GPS access.
  • Estimated economic disruption is $10-$20 billion per day for the U.S. alone.
  • Preparation is crucial for potential impacts on technologies and infrastructure, including the power grid.

How do solar storms affect undersea internet cables?

  • Solar storms can potentially damage undersea internet cables by impacting repeaters that amplify optical signals every 50 to 150 kilometers.
  • Damaged repeaters could cut off international internet communications, necessitating weeks or months for replacement.
  • Cables crossing high-latitude regions in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans are at greater risk, even from moderate storms.
  • Despite this vulnerability, undersea internet cables are electrically immune to solar storm damage as they transmit signals in the form of light, not current.
  • While susceptible to potential damage, undersea internet cables are less vulnerable than other technologies such as power grids and satellite communications.

Difference between a Solar Storm and a Solar Superstorm

  • Solar storms and solar superstorms are disturbances originating from the Sun, affecting the entire Solar System, including Earth and its magnetosphere, and contributing to space weather.
  • The key distinction between them is the intensity of the disturbance:
  • Solar storms encompass any large, rapid release of energy from the Sun’s surface, including solar flares, coronal mass ejections, massive bursts of solar wind, or other large-scale energy releases.
  • Solar superstorms are much more intense and powerful events, occurring when a massive coronal mass ejection collides with Earth’s magnetic field, leading to widespread disruption in power grids, satellite communications, and undersea internet cables.
  • The Carrington Event in 1859 is an example of a solar superstorm that caused telegraph systems worldwide to fail catastrophically.
  • While solar storms are relatively common and can disrupt technology and infrastructure, solar superstorms are much rarer and have the potential to cause significantly more substantial and enduring impacts.
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