Over the next two years, as the sun reaches a peak in its magnetic activity cycle, chances are that a major solar storm will knock out communications and satellites. Apparently, there is a 12% chance of one of these storms happening every decade, and the last one reported took place in 1859.
‘Governments are taking it very seriously,’ Mike Hapgood, of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK, said to Reuters. ‘These things may be very rare but when they happen, the consequences can be catastrophic.’
Governments and scientists are trying to determine the extent of the problem. The difficulty is that there is still no proper understanding of space weather, as scientists have only recently started studying this field.
‘Politically, it started to get some purchase about three years ago,’ says Andrew Richards, a severe risk analyst at National Grid, in the UK. ‘We know they are real effects but we are nowhere near there, in terms of our understanding.’
The solar storm of 1859 was recorded by scientist Richard C. Harrington and reported by newspapers. According to these newspapers, the storm caused aurora borealis that were seen as far south as the Caribbean.