The Sun is capable of causing worryingly powerful storms. A new study of ancient ice cores mined from deep in Greenland and Antarctica has found that, about 9,200 years ago, a colossal solar storm hit Earth. It is a previously unknown storm and represents one of the strongest solar weather outbursts ever detected. It was so powerful that it would have crippled modern communications systems if it had taken place in our day.
Scars etched in the buried ice
When there is strong activity on the sun’s surface, more energy is released, which can lead to geomagnetic storms.
Strangest of all, it seemed to have occurred during a period when the Sun should have been fairly quiet ; during a solar minimum, the point during our star’s 11-year cycle when solar flares are typically much less common, according to the study, published in the journal Nature Communications.
How is this conclusion drawn?
During solar storms, the Sun expels large amounts of energetic particles that can react with Earth’s atmosphere and produce cosmogenic isotopes such as carbon-14 (14C), beryllium-10 (10Be), and chlorine-36 (36Cl). . Therefore, an international team of scientists measured the amounts of isotopes 10Be and 36Cl in ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica. The data was very consistent with the arrival of a gigantic solar storm that occurred in 7176 BC. c.
“This is expensive and time-consuming analytical work. We were therefore pleasantly surprised to find such a peak, indicating a hitherto unknown giant solar storm in connection with low solar activity,” explains Raimund Muscheler, co-author. from work.
Should we be concerned about this discovery?
That’s how it is. Scientists think this could mean that solar storms as devastating as this could arrive when we least expect them, and of course the Earth is not prepared for a big storm like this.
Can a solar storm be predicted?
It’s complicated. It is believed that they are more likely during an active phase of the Sun, or solar maximum, during the so-called sunspot cycle, but this study questions this claim.
“These huge storms are currently not sufficiently included in risk assessments. It is of paramount importance to look at what these events might mean for current technology and how we can protect ourselves ,” concludes Muscheler.
According to the study authors, it is now essential that we investigate older extreme storms in the ice core and tree ring records, to determine if there is some sort of pattern beyond the sun’s 11-year cycle that dictates when the storms will occur. more extreme storms.
“If a similar solar storm were to occur today, it could have devastating consequences,” experts say.
References: Chiara I. Paleari, Florian Mekhaldi, Florian Adolphi, Marcus Christl, Christof Vockenhuber, Philip Gautschi, Jürg Beer, Nicolas Brehm, Tobias Erhardt, Hans-Arno Synal, Lukas Wacker, Frank Wilhelms, Raimund Muscheler. Cosmogenic radionuclides reveal an extreme solar particle storm near a solar minimum 9125 years BP. Nature Communications, 2022; 13(1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-27891-4