(Illustration by Janel Andrei Carbonilla | Amaranth)
In the past few days, posts circulating in social media say that there will be global blackouts and the so-called ‘internet apocalypse’ because of these solar superstorms, alarming the world for the worst and negatively affecting every ounce of our lifestyle as a netizen especially for the Philippines as we are notoriously heralded as ‘The Social Media Capital of the World’. News burst out that a heavy solar superstorm is near and approaching, and will wipe out the internet without proper context.
Internet nomads since the early 20s are no strangers to the chain messages and emails sent as a means of (in Gen Z’s terms) ‘clout-chasing’ or even for popularity purposes. And since then, solar superstorms have already been witnessed and experienced. The term ‘internet apocalypse’ is interlinked with solar superstorms as presented in the 2021 study ‘Solar Superstorms: Planning for an Internet Apocalypse’ where it was implied that such a phenomenon could potentially damage underwater internet cables from a computer science perspective.
But should we be worried? Before answering that we should first understand what a solar superstorm is and how it could affect us.
What are these Solar Superstorms?
Our sun is a flaming ball of plasma that is an essential body for sustaining life on Earth. The sun is active and flowing with energy like a very hot ocean. The sun emits this energy often in a massive amount to its surrounding solar system in the form of solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs). On extreme activity, a more potent solar storm can be expelled as a more intense event and prolonged impact on space referred to as solar superstorms. Solar superstorms from the sun would engulf the Earth’s magnetic field from a 150 million kilometers distance and would transfer energy to our magnetosphere.
Would that be dangerous to us? Technically not, but it would have an immense impact on our electricity, space equipment, and anything on Earth that is reliant on electricity. But to us humans, we wouldn’t feel a thing. Thanks to the multiple layers of blanket surrounding our Earth’s atmosphere, these disturbances will not affect our frail bodies. Solar flares and solar activity have and always have been happening since before. A recognized history of the immense solar superstorm that happened on Earth is the Carrington Event dated in 1859 where multiple auroras were seen around the globe due to the sun’s activity with our magnetosphere and the disturbance of technology only occurring on telegraphic communication. Other than that, nothing much happened.
What about now, how will Solar Superstorms affect us?
Similar to of the Carrington Event, a geomagnetic storm in March 1989 caused a temporary massive outage in Quebec, Canada, but this has been monitored and is just a temporary interruption. Because of our heavy reliance on the use of technology and the internet to navigate our daily lifestyle, there is great discussion on how it will affect this status quo. However, there is little to worry about this as nowadays, society has already prepared for such a scenario and proper countermeasures have already been planned.
If we can manage it, why is it currently trending?
The articles on solar superstorms are based on the chance that these events may occur; it is estimated to occur with a 12% chance per decade. Even years ago, you could search articles regarding solar superstorms, containing ‘warnings and precaution’ from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which a simple search would not reveal anything but an article from FOX news.
Whenever we click a link or read an article online, we should always assess whether it is reliable or not - be skeptical if you may say. Internet is a mental battlefield where everyone wants to win you over something, gaining your assurance and all; and fighting unprepared is already a bullet to your chest - in this case, you are a victim of disinformation. Solar superstorms may sound disastrous but for now there are no announcements made by NASA or any science media outlet on the possible consequences of this solar event.
So fret not for now. But even so, caution and vigilance should be observed– just in case.