Internet Solar Storm May Peak Soon

John Lister's picture

A period of increased risk to communication and the Internet could hit earlier than expected. The dangers of a solar storm are genuine, though one expert says she regrets using the term "Internet apocalypse."

The risk is that intense solar activity could increase the levels of electromagnetic radiation hitting the Earth's atmosphere. That could damage Internet infrastructure such as undersea cables.

The risk increases during a period called "solar maximum" where the sun's magnetic field reverses. During this process, the magnetic field around the sun becomes inconsistent, leading to more cases of coronal mass ejections where magnetized particles are effectively belched out into space.

Internet Reliance Changes Calculations

Solar maximum happens in a cycle once every 11 years or so, with the next one previously expected in 2025. However, analysis of solar activity suggests it could happen by the end of this year and could be more dramatic than in previously observed cycles. (Source:

The Washington Post notes previous solar storms in 1859 and 1989 damaged telegraph lines and power grids. The difference now is that we are much more reliant on communications technology. (Source:

Computer science professor Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi told the newspaper that some unfortunate patterns mean the damage to the Internet could be particularly strong. One is that solar storms would most likely have the biggest effect in the Northern hemisphere. Because of population and wealth, that's also where the majority of Internet infrastructure lies.

Power Grids Could Be Bigger Problem

Jyothi also notes that the effects wouldn't necessarily affect all users and sites equally. For example, if key undersea cables were put out of action, users in some places might be able to access sites based in their country but not those which use data servers around the world.

However, Jyothi said the term "Internet apocalypse" that she used in a paper on the topic may have worried people too much. That's not so much because of the level of risk, but rather because individual citizens can't really do much to tackle the problem. She also worries it detracts from other solar risks such as power lines being put out of action.

What's Your Opinion?

Had you come across the idea of solar risks affecting communication? Is it something worth worrying about? Should society invest money trying to mitigate something that's unlikely to happen but would have significant consequences?

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