Nobody panic, but if there's a solar storm Earth will only get a 12-hour warning

Bethan McKernan@mck_beth
Wednesday 29 July 2015 13:00
Science and Tech

A new government report has warned that if a major solar storm - that could knock out electricity and communications for days - hits the Earth, humanity will only get around a 12-hour-warning.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) published the report into the risks to the UK from “severe space weather” such as solar and radiation storms.

In the worst case scenario, a "coronal mass ejection" from the sun could cause damage to the National Grid, satellite systems, communications and air and rail travel, according to the Space Weather Preparedness Strategy.

Coronal mass ejections are huge eruptions on the surface of the sun which cause large parts of the corona to blast away into space. Citing the Carrington Event of 1859, which took 18 hours to reach earth and caused one of the largest geomagnetic storm on record, BIS said that according to their worst case scenario predictions there could be as little as 12 hours between observation and impact.

Members of the public have been advised to prepare for the possibility of severe space weather the same way you'd prepare for more earthly hazards like floods or storms.

The good news is that severe solar storms are rare - experts estimate that massive flares happen about once every 150 years. The bad news is that since it is 156 years since the Carrington storms were documented, Earth is due a coronal mass ejection soon.

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