Towards a gigantic internet blackout caused by a solar storm?

A scenario that could quickly become catastrophic. According to American researchers, the possibility of a solar storm could be very serious on Earth, with in particular a lasting blackout of the internet.

Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi, assistant professor at the University of California, recently published a study called “solar storm: preparing for an apocalypse on the internet”. If this were to happen, it would potentially be necessary to prepare for a blackout of the entire Internet network for several weeks, if not several months.

The probability of such an event remains very rare, however. The chance of a solar storm of this magnitude occurring in a decade is estimated to be between 1.6% and 12%. The last one that touched Earth dates back to 1859, known as the Carrington Event. If the internet did not yet exist, telecommunications by electric telegraphs had already been disrupted.

Which satellites and submarine cables are mainly affected?

In summary, a solar storm occurs when the solar wind intensifies in space. At this point, the magnetic field that surrounds the Earth is no longer strong enough to protect itself from the particles.

Contacted by Wired, Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi explains having thought about this problem when seeing how “the world was unprepared” in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. “There was no protocol to handle it effectively, and it’s the same with internet resiliency,” she says.

Among the most sensitive equipment, the specialist ensures that the optical submarine cables that connect the continents risk being the first to suffer the consequences. Satellites could also be affected. On the other hand, local internet networks would be more likely to be spared. However, due to the rarity of these events, scientists have difficulty in being able to prepare equipment for solar storms. It remains to be seen whether the current protections will be sufficient in the event of a disaster.

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