An international team of scientists has discovered the largest solar storm in history to affect our planet. And this is the proof: a huge increase in radiocarbon levels 14,300 years ago and which has now been discovered by analyzing the rings of ancient trees found in the French Alps.
The bad news is that this solar storm could happen again. And the really worrying thing is that a solar storm like that today would be catastrophic for human society, because it could destroy telecommunications systems and satellites, cause massive blackouts in the global electrical grid and, therefore, would cost billions of euros. in economic losses.
For these powerful reasons, the international team that has discovered the largest solar storm in history, and which is led by the European Universities of Leeds and Marseille, has asked for more research into what happens in our sun, in order to protect our vitals. energy and communications systems over the next few years.
This discovery has been made possible thanks to the collaboration of scientists from the United Kingdom and France, working at the Collège de France, the University of Aix-Marseille and the University of Leeds.
And this historic discovery has been achieved after measuring radiocarbon levels in ancient trees preserved on the eroded banks of the Drouzet River, located in the Alps of southern France.
These tree trunks, which are subfossils (that is, remains whose fossilization process is not complete) were cut into small individual rings.
Analysis of these individual rings identified an unprecedented increase in radiocarbon levels that occurred precisely 14,300 years ago.
By comparing this radiocarbon spike with measurements of beryllium, a chemical element found in Greenland ice cores, this team shows that the spike was caused by a massive solar storm, which would have ejected huge volumes of energetic particles into the atmosphere. from the earth.
Tim Heaton, an expert at the University of Leeds, warns that “extreme solar storms could have huge impacts on Earth.” Specifically, these superstorms could permanently damage transformers on our power grids, causing massive, widespread blackouts that would last for months.
In addition, they could also cause permanent damage to the satellites on which we all depend for navigation and telecommunications, rendering them unusable and, finally, creating serious radiation risks for astronauts.
Scientists have already identified that nine of these extreme solar storms, known as “Miyake Events,” occurred in the last 15,000 years.
The most recent confirmed Miyake events occurred in 993 AD and 774 AD. However, this newly identified 14,300-year-old storm is the largest ever found: about twice the size of these two.
The exact nature of these massive solar storms remains poorly known as they have never been directly observed with measuring equipment.
Therefore, astrophysicists emphasize that we still have a lot to learn about the behavior of the Sun and the dangers it poses to society on Earth, because we still do not know what causes such extreme solar storms to occur and how often they can occur. or if we can somehow predict them.
The largest directly observed solar storm occurred in 1859 and is known as the Carrington Event.
It caused a massive disturbance on Earth: it destroyed telegraph machines and created a nighttime aurora so bright that birds began singing, believing that the Sun had begun to rise.
However, the Miyake Events (including the recently discovered 14,300-year-old storm) would have been a staggering order of magnitude larger in size.