It turns out that massive solar storms once battered Earth about 1,000 years ago. Scientists have found that solar storms could be much more powerful than previously assumed after uncovering evidence in Greenland and Antarctic ice.
"If such enormous solar storms would hit Earth today, they could have devastating effects on our power supply, satellites and communication systems," said Raimund Muscheler, one of the researchers, in a news release.
In this latest effort, researchers looked for traces of solar storms in ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica. Everywhere on Earth you can find traces of cosmic rays from the galaxy and the sun, such as low levels of radioactive carbon.
A few years ago, in fact, researchers found traces of a rapid increase of radioactive carbon in tree rings from the periods AD 774/775 and AD 993/994. The cause for these increases was, however, debated.
"In this study we have aimed to work systematically to find the cause for these events. We have now found corresponding increases for exactly the same periods in ice cores," said Raimund Muscheler, one of the researchers, in a news release. "With these new results it is possible to rule out all other suggested explanations, and thereby confirm extreme solar storms as the cause of these mysterious radiocarbon increases."
The solar storms that occurred by far exceeded any known events observed today.
"If such enormous solar storms would hit Earth today, they could have devastating effects on our power supply, satellites and communication systems," said Muscheler.
The findings reveal a bit more about these past solar storms and show that we may wish to prepare for solar storms of similar strength in case they hit again.
The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.
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