Solar storms often come and go unbeknownst to most people – at most, we hear of minor radio blackouts or satellite disruptions, and of course, the breathtaking auroras.
But, scientists have warned that extreme space weather events could one day cause far more harm, with potential to wipe out the electrical grid and cause global technological damage.
To prevent such a catastrophe, scientists have proposed a plan to build a massive ‘magnetic deflector’ that would sit like a shield between Earth and the sun, diverting the harmful emissions away from our planet.
In 1859, a massive geomagnetic super-storm known as the Carrington event sent powerful coronal mass ejections toward Earth, disrupting communications on the ground.
If such an event were to happen in today’s world, the effects would be catastrophic.
In the study, published to arXiv, the researchers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics note, ‘if the Carrington event were to occur now, it would wreak significant damage to electrical power grids, global supply chains and satellite communications.
‘The cumulative worldwide economic losses could reach up to $10 trillion dollars, and a full recovery is expected to take several years.’
And, there’s roughly a 10 percent chance this type of event could occur in the next decade, according to the researchers.
Looking even further, over the next 150 years, there will be an event capable of causing $20 trillion in damage, Avi Loeb, one of the authors of the study, told Gizmodo.
As time passes, the expert notes, the damage will increase exponentially so long as technological development does.
The proposed ‘shield’ would essentially be a 100,000 ton copper coil that relies on magnetic fields, using what’s known as the Lorentz force to deflect the sun’s harmful particles away from Earth.
This would be placed at about 205,000 miles (329,000 km) from Earth, and require only ‘comparatively small’ deflection to protect the planet.
A project of this kind would not be cheap – but, it would cost far less than the damage caused by a catastrophic solar storm.
‘The total cost involved in lifting a 100,000 ton object into space would be around $100 billion, assuming that the payload coast per kg is $1000,’ the authors wrote.
‘This value is comparable to the total cost of the International Space Station, and is 3-4 orders of magnitude lower than the current world GDP, or the economic damage from a flare ~100 years henceforth.’
Or, the researchers note, the ‘superstructure’ could be constructed directly in space, using materials mined from the asteroid belt.