What is a Solar Superstorm and Why Could it Mean Devastation on Earth?
Scientists say an extreme solar storm, believed to be the most powerful in at least 150 years, barely missed planet Earth two years ago.
On July 23, 2012, NASA footage shows the sun releasing two huge clouds of plasma known as coronal mass ejections, or CMEs.
Scientists say the clouds combined their energy into one superstorm, which plowed through the orbit of Earth just a week after the planet had moved through that part of space.
In other words, if the solar storm erupted only seven days earlier, Earth would have taken a direct hit.
"If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces," University of Colorado scientist Daniel Baker told colleagues from NASA. "I have come away from our recent studies more convinced than ever that Earth and its inhabitants were incredibly fortunate that the 2012 eruption happened when it did."
Analysts say a direct hit by an extreme coronal mass ejection like the one in July 2012 could be catastrophic, leading to widespread power blackouts.
A study by the National Academy of Sciences reports the total economic impact could be more than $2 trillion. That's 20 times greater than the cost of Hurricane Katrina.
In today's technology-driven world, the solar superstorm could have done serious damage from homes on Earth all the way up to space.
It could have disrupted spacecraft, satellite communications, GPS, airplane flights and the power grid, which could have knocked out power to everything from businesses to houses.
"Without the electric grid, well of course, there's no power. There's also no water; there's also no communications, no transportation, no medical care," Dr. Avi Schnurr, CEO and president of the Electric Infrastructure Security Council, explained.
"The financial system would be down," he continued. "The environmental effects would be catastrophic at a level that we've never seen before,"
In addition, it could take years to repair multi-ton transformers. Scientists are comparing the July 2012 storm to a solar storm called the Carrington Event in 1859.
That storm had such an impact on Earth that the so-called Northern Lights could be seen from the equator. It also disrupted the world's telegraph system, even causing fires at some telegraph stations.
Comparing the 2012 solar storm to the blast from the sun in 1859, Baker said, "The only difference is, it missed."