Concern has grown in recent years about how much of our infrastructure, electricity, wireless technology, and more, would be affected by solar flares. National Geographic suggests that if we experience a solar flare like Carrington Event of 1859, we would be in trouble:
[T]the biggest solar storm on record happened in 1859, during a solar maximum about the same size as the one we’re entering, according to NASA.
That storm has been dubbed the Carrington Event, after British astronomer Richard Carrington, who witnessed the megaflare and was the first to realize the link between activity on the sun and geomagnetic disturbances on Earth…
In addition, the geomagnetic disturbances were strong enough that U.S. telegraph operators reported sparks leaping from their equipment—some bad enough to set fires, said Ed Cliver, a space physicist at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory in Bedford, Massachusetts.
In 1859, such reports were mostly curiosities. But if something similar happened today, the world’s high-tech infrastructure could grind to a halt.
“What’s at stake,” the Space Weather Prediction Center’s Bogdan said, “are the advanced technologies that underlie virtually every aspect of our lives.”…
But the big fear is what might happen to the electrical grid, since power surges caused by solar particles could blow out giant transformers. Such transformers can take a long time to replace, especially if hundreds are destroyed at once, said Baker, who is a co-author of a National Research Council report on solar-storm risks…
“Imagine large cities without power for a week, a month, or a year,” Baker said. “The losses could be $1 to $2 trillion, and the effects could be felt for years.”
An event even close in scale to the Carrington Event would quickly remind us of how much we take this infrastructure for granted.
Although I don’t wish for something like this to happen, it would make for a fascinating natural experiment. If there was no electricity for an extended period, how would governments and people respond? Would we end up in scenes reminiscent of Hollywood apocalyptic thrillers or could we survive and make do? Such movies tend to built around the idea that there will be widespread destruction, not the loss of vital electricity. And if everyone is affected, who would lead the way forward?