Scientists Warn of 'Catastrophic' Solar Storm

1 in 8 chance of destructive megaflare by 2020

By Mary Papenfuss,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 1, 2012 2:33 AM CST | Updated Mar 1, 2012 4:38 AM CST

(Newser) – Prepare yourself for yet another potential disaster. Scientists are warning that we face a one-in-eight chance of a massive "catastrophic" solar storm by the year 2020. A colossal "megaflare" from the surface of the sun could cause trillions of dollars in damage to electrical systems, and could take a decade to recover from. The prediction is based on mathematical probability equations linked to previous events.

The last massive sun eruption was the Carrington Event in 1859, reports Wired. An enormous flare emitted a vast particle stream that created auroras as it hit the Earth's atmosphere, setting telegraph stations on fire, blacking out their networks, and knocking changes in Earth’s magnetic field off the scale. A similar event in our high-tech era could cripple electric power, radio communication, and GPS satellites, disrupting transportation, communication, and banking systems.

This NASA image shows the sun unleashing a medium-sized solar flare, and a spectacular coronal mass ejection last summer.
This NASA image shows the sun unleashing a medium-sized solar flare, and a spectacular coronal mass ejection last summer.   (AP Photo/NASA)
This NASA images shows a  solar flare erupting on the sun's northeastern hemisphere last year during the strongest solar storm in six years.
This NASA images shows a solar flare erupting on the sun's northeastern hemisphere last year during the strongest solar storm in six years.   (AP Photo/NASA)
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