An official from the U.K. Space Agency warned that Earth will get hit by a massive solar storm from the Sun within the next few years. The solar flares from the storm could be powerful enough to disrupt and disable the various communication and electrical infrastructures of countries.

According to experts on space weather, solar flares can cause strong electrical surges on Earth. The high and sudden influx of electricity can cause transformers and power grids to blow out, leading to wide-scale blackouts.

But aside from facilities on Earth, solar flares can also affect the operations of satellites and space stations orbiting the planet. Aside from endangering the lives of astronauts, the solar flares can also prevent satellites from transmitting data, leading to a complete breakdown of GPS navigation and communication systems.

During the recent Space Conference 2019 held in Wales, the U.K. Space Agency’s Head of Space Safety Mike Willis warned that the effects of a powerful solar storm could cause major disruptions that are enough to paralyze the operations of entire countries.

“What we are concerned about is the extreme events which would be much more than your normal flare,” Willis said according to Express. “This could actually cause serious disruption if we don’t forecast it and if we don’t do anything about it.”

As noted by Willis, solar flares can be so devastating that it can cost a country such as the U.K. $5 billion in just five days. The economic breakdown from the event would be caused by the effects of the solar storm on the national power grids and the communication and navigation systems.

“It’s things like logistics, it’s things like people not being able to navigate, things like timing systems, emergency services,” Willis said. “There’s also the power grids – one of the impacts of space weather is to create geomagnetic activity which induces currents in long flexible conductors, and these are direct currents.”

According to Willis, protecting Earth from solar storms and solar flares would take a combination of academic research and technological advancements. A better understanding of cosmic weather would enable companies and governments to develop new concepts aimed at protecting electrical equipment and systems from the effects of solar flares.

Solar material that reaches Earth, such as after a solar flare like this one, can disturb our planet’s magnetic fields. NASA