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We're overdue a once-in-a-century solar storm but expert warns we're not ready for 'catastrophic' consequences

We're overdue a once-in-a-century solar storm but expert warns we're not ready for 'catastrophic' consequences

The event could derail any sustainability efforts.

Imagine all flights around the world being cancelled at the same time. Couple that with not being able to call home or check the internet for information.

This scenario may not be as far away as it seems.

The space physics community warns that the next once-in-100-year solar storm might just be around the corner.

The last major one hit in 1859, thanks to the studies by British amateur physicist, Richard Carrington.

He recorded his observations of a massive sunspot and, 17 hours later, Earth experienced the effects in a big way.

The Northern Lights were visible as far south as the Caribbean.


Telegraphs worked without electricity but magnetometer stations suffered disruptions.

But today in our digitally connected world, the consequences would be far more drastic, according to physicist Minna Palmroth.

For example, a major solar storm could lead to global flight restrictions due to increased radiation at high altitudes.

'Satellites might malfunction and, without access to an atomic clock for precise timings, mobile networks could be unable to connect phone calls,' she described.

'Without connections to satellites, scientists would struggle to monitor the phenomenon.'

The recent solar event that caused the aurora display in May 2024 was much smaller than the Carrington event – about three to five times less intense.

Therefore, Palmorth claims it's not 'alarmist' to say that 'the next extreme space weather event could be devastating' especially as we also face the threat of climate change.

remotevfx / Getty
remotevfx / Getty

As the chair of the Technology Academy Finland which awards the Millennium Technology Prizes, Palmroth has witnessed a plethora of innovations to change the course of the planet's fate and drive sustainable change.

However, the event of the next Carrington-level storm could derail these efforts.

'For this reason, I believe we must monitor our near space as closely as the weather,' she added.

'This means sending hundreds of satellites to orbit Earth at different altitudes – and so more rocket exhausts in the atmosphere.

'Is this a price worth paying? Yes. Because as Carrington realised: if we don’t observe, we can’t predict.

'And now, more than ever, we need to predict.'

US space agency NASA has managed to capture footage of a solar storm earlier this year from Mars rovers which was cause for the incredible aurorae we saw back in May.

Featured Image Credit: MARK GARLICK/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / remotevfx / Getty