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Huge ancient solar storm revealed by tree rings in French Alps

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The largest directly observed solar storm, called the Carrington Event, occurred in 1859, wreaking havoc on telegraphs and creating a nighttime aurora so bright that birds sang as if the sun was rising. The one 14,300 years ago would have been something like 10 times more severe.

The effects of solar storms can disable electronics.

“If similar solar storms happened today, they could be catastrophic for society, as we are so reliant upon technology,” Heaton said.

“They could do enormous damage to our electricity grids, potentially causing nationwide blackouts lasting months, permanently putting satellites out of action with the huge bursts of energetic particles destroying their solar panels and stopping us communicating with them, and pose severe radiation risks to astronauts and aviation. In the worst-case scenario, the impact could cost us billions, or even trillions, of dollars in lost GDP,” Heaton added.

The trees, buried at the end of the last glaciation period, had begun to fossilise but still retained organic material.

“The good preservation of the trunks and their in-life position – still rooted, with pieces of bark remaining – indicate that the trees were rather quickly buried,” said study co-author Cécile Miramont, a professor of paleoenvironments and paleoclimates at Aix-Marseille University in France and the research institute IMBE. “Subfossil wood originates when wood is buried in an anaerobic environment, with an absence of microbial and chemical degradation.”

The researchers corroborated their findings by detecting a corresponding spike in another chemical isotope in Greenland ice-cores dating to the same year.

“We do not know what causes such extreme solar storms to occur, how frequently they might occur or if we can predict them,” Heaton said. “This is the big question: will our communications, electricity grids and satellites mostly be able to withstand their impacts and just suffer temporary effects before quickly coming back online? Or will they catastrophically fail?”

Article was originally published from here

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