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Scientist: 1 in 8 Chance that “Catastrophic” Solar Megastorm will Strike Earth within 10 Years

A leading scientist says there is a one in eight chance of a massive solar megaflare erupting from the sun within the next decade. Such a storm, he says, could cause trillions of dollars worth of damage and wreak havoc here on earth.

Wired reports that Pete Riley, senior scientist at San Diego’s Predictive Science, published his alarming forecast in the Feb. 23 edition of Space Weather

(Photo: NASA)

According to Wired, such extreme events are relatively rare, but the sun goes through an 11-year cycle of varying storm activity. During solar maximum, sunspots and powerful magnetic winds burst forth from the star’s surface and spew charged particles out into space.

The last enormous solar storm, known as the Carrington Event, happened in 1859. It caused stunningly beautiful auroras, usually only seen near the north and south poles, as close to the equator as northern Chile and Hawaii. New Yorkers were awed by what the New York Times described as “the heavens… arrayed in a drapery more gorgeous than they have been for years.”

But the charged particles wreaked havoc on telegraphic stations, which caught on fire and went offline. Magnetic observatories also recorded disturbances that were quite literally off the charts.

Wired reports that a similar event in today’s technology-dependent world would have “catastrophic” consequences, damaging power grids, pipelines, GPS systems and obliterating radio communications. According to the National Research Council (NRC), potential damage in a worst-case scenario could be in the $1- $2 trillion range, with repairs taking up to a decade.

“A longer-term outage would likely include, for example, disruption of the transportation, communication, banking, and finance systems, and government services; the breakdown of the distribution of potable water owing to pump failure; and the loss of perishable foods and medications because of lack of refrigeration,” a 2008 NRC report stated.

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