KEY POINTS

  • The 99th anniversary of a powerful solar storm happened this week
  • The 1921 solar storm is the most powerful solar event in the 20th century
  • A similar solar today would have devastating effects on Earth

The 99th anniversary of a powerful solar storm that affected large portions of Earth recently took place on May 12. According to reports, it was the biggest solar storm to hit Earth during the 20th century.

The solar event occurred on May 12, 1921. It began after a massive sunspot identified as AR1842 flared up, sending coronal mass ejections (CME) towards Earth.

Over the next three days, the CMEs battered Earth’s magnetic field, causing disruptions in electricity and power. Different parts of the world experienced similar issues caused by the solar storm.

Countries such as Australia, Brazil, France, Denmark, Japan, the U.K., New Zealand and the U.S. experienced widespread disruptions in telephone and telegraph communications. According to reports, electrical currents induced the geomagnetic activity on Earth caused a surge in the telephone and telegraph lines, causing them to overload.

In other places, such as Sweden and parts of the U.S. and the U.K., fires broke out. They were caused by powerlines and telegraph facilities bursting into flames due to the sudden electrical surge triggered by the solar storms.

According to experts, solar storms as powerful as the one that hit Earth in 1921 tend to happen in 100-year cycles. This means that another powerful solar storm could bombard the Earth next year.

Since Earth has more technologically advanced equipment and facilities today than in 1921, a similar solar event would have greater devastating effects on the planet now than a hundred years ago.

According to Mike Hapgood, a scientist who conducted a study regarding the solar storm of 1921, a powerful geomagnetic event would disrupt most technological innovations that people rely on daily.

“This could include regional power outages, profound changes to satellite orbits, and loss of radio-based technologies such as GPS,” he said in a statement according to SpaceWeather.com. “The disruption of GPS could significantly impact logistics and emergency services.”

As noted by Hapgood, drastic solutions need to be enacted in order to shield Earth’s facilities, such as power grids, communication lines and satellites from the adverse effects of a powerful solar storm from the Sun.

Solar Storms Expected to Disrupt Earth for Next Decade The eruption of the sun on Sunday and Monday with an M8.7 class flare, causing the biggest solar radiation storm since 2003, has revived apprehensions of stronger solar flares in the near future. Photo: REUTERS