Scientists studying the Sun believe that a Carrington-like solar storm could be sent our way within the next decade. If the intensity of the solar storm is anywhere near the peak these scientists are predicting, the event will likely be followed by a massive global economic meltdown, among other socioeconomic issues.
The United States, for example, could be suffering a loss of $41.5 billion every day if the intensity is similar to that of the Carrington event that took place in 1859. Of course, nobody who witnessed the Carrington event is alive today to tell us what it may have been like to see auroras all across the world. However, based on the records from the era, scientists are fairly certain that it is the most powerful solar storm on record till date.
Such was the severity of the solar event in 1859 that telegraph systems across North America and Europe suffered heavy damages. Even operators handling these machines suffered electric shocks upon coming in physical contact with the devices. Weirder even, some machines continued working even when they were unplugged.
Note that this occurred more than a century-and-a-half back. Human technologies were far less dependent on electricity back in those days as compared to today. There were no computers, no satellites, no massive fleets of military and commercial aircraft, no smartphones, and very few electricity-dependent devices and machinery. The damages, therefore, were far less than they would be if such a catastrophe befalls us today with little or no prior warning.
According to a 2012 paper by Pete Riley, a space physicist at Predictive Science in San Diego, California, the probabilities of another Carrington-type event occurring within the next decade is nearly 12%.
Meanwhile, another recent study published in the journal Space Weather revealed that the possible economic impact originating from any such solar event would transcend borders and nationalities, encompassing pretty much all of the world. If precautions are not taken, the event could also knock out the power transformers required to transmit electricity throughout the power grids, leading to nationwide blackouts everywhere.
“By exploring the sensitivity of the blackout zone, we show that on average the direct economic cost incurred from disruption to electricity represents only 49% of the total potential macroeconomic cost,” the researchers wrote in their study.
“Therefore, if indirect supply chain costs are not considered when undertaking cost-benefit analysis of space weather forecasting and mitigation investment, the total potential macroeconomic cost is not correctly represented.”
Expert opinions on the severity of such blackouts usually vary significantly. While the more optimistic viewpoint is that the outage would be possibly over within hours or up to a few days max, many tend to believe that it could take anywhere between a few weeks to several months to bring things back into shape as transmission networks might also get knocked out, requiring total replacements.