A major solar storm could unleash a burst of geomagnetic fury on Earth's power grid. Recently a group of scientists released a report asking whether our high tech society could survive in bad space weather.
The report, published by the National Academies for the US Government, explains how previous solar storms of typical magnitude took out the Quebec power grid in Canada 20 years ago - and interrupted the telegraph system back in the nineteenth century. What if a really big solar storm hit? The likely outcome would be global blackout. Not only would you be cut off from the warm, friendly internet, but airplanes would lose directional systems, water and energy grids would go offline, phone and hospitals would be without power.
Solar storms interfere with high frequency emissions, including those used by most satellites. The charged particles released by flares accompanying such storms would first destroy instrumentation on the International Space Station, then when it reaches Earth would degrade solar arrays, damage high tech instrumentation, and blind optical systems of all types. Most importantly, it could play havoc with the electrical transformers that we use in almost all power grids.
The report explains that we are entering a period of greater solar activity, and that people working with electrical grids and other systems vulnerable to space weather could easily install shielding to protect against stray particles and geomagnetic bursts.
What's the lesson for you? Buy paper books, because they'll be the only form of entertainment after the global blackout destroys all those e-book readers and the internet goes dead.
Severe Space Weather Events - Full Scientific Report from National Academies Press
Major Solar Storm Could Cause Lasting Damage [via New Scientist]