World unprepared for next big space storm, scientists warn

A striking consensus among scientists reveals that the world is ill-prepared for the next major storm from outer space. An astounding 90% of space weather experts acknowledge that Earth would face significant damage to its infrastructure if accurate space weather forecasting is not achieved. This alarming fact emerged from a comprehensive survey conducted by the University of Reading and Apollo Academic Surveys, where 144 scientists were interviewed about the dangers of geomagnetic storms.

The survey disclosed that slightly over half of the experts believe that current forecasting capabilities are inadequate to prevent the potential havoc caused by space weather. The ramifications of such a storm are daunting, with a vast majority of respondents (90%) expressing concerns about damage to satellites and widespread communication disruptions. Moreover, four in five scientists anticipate power outages as a probable consequence of a substantial space disturbance.

Dr. Luke Barnard, a prominent space weather expert from the University of Reading and co-creator of the survey, issued a stern warning. He emphasized that space storms could have a profoundly detrimental impact on our technology-dependent way of life. If electricity blackouts occur due to faulty satellites and communication systems fail, the disruptions could last from hours to several days. Even daily activities like transportation by cars and planes could be severely affected if GPS functionality is compromised.

The resounding message from the study is clear – the current level of preparedness falls far short of what is needed to mitigate the effects of severe solar storms. To address this critical issue, experts agree on the necessity of obtaining more observations of the sun and space to improve our understanding and forecasting of space weather. Advancements in space weather forecasting would empower people to plan effectively and minimize the most devastating impacts of future solar storms.

Survey results

Geomagnetic storms, a result of the interaction between the solar wind’s charged particles and Earth’s magnetic field, not only produce mesmerizing Northern Lights but also pose significant risks to our technology-dependent world. These storms can disrupt power grids, both on the ground and in space, potentially causing damage to vital technologies.

The survey of space weather experts delved into various aspects concerning the hazards of geomagnetic storms, shedding light on their concerns. Notably, 51% of the experts expressed apprehension that future storms could surpass the intensity of any recorded in the last two centuries, including the infamous Carrington Event of 1859.

As for the timeline of the next unplanned regional power outages triggered by space weather, opinions varied among the respondents. However, a substantial 33% of the experts believed that there is a realistic chance of such outages occurring within the next decade.

In terms of space weather forecasts, approximately 40% of the participants voiced skepticism about the current level of accuracy. This implies that improvements are needed in our forecasting capabilities to better prepare and safeguard against the potential damages caused by geomagnetic storms.

These survey findings underscore the critical importance of advancing our understanding and forecasting of space weather. With the possibility of more intense storms looming and uncertainties surrounding power outage risks, the scientific community acknowledges the need for greater vigilance and preparedness to mitigate the impact of these space phenomena on our technological infrastructure.

Blank check

When considering how to best utilize a $1 billion budget to improve space-weather forecasting, a substantial portion of the surveyed experts advocated for the implementation of small satellite constellations in close proximity to the sun. These satellites would play a crucial role by directly measuring the solar wind before it reaches Earth, leading to enhanced prediction capabilities and the ability to take proactive measures.

In addition to satellite proposals, other experts suggested allocating funds to establish ground-based telescopes dedicated to 24-hour space weather monitoring. Such continuous monitoring would provide valuable data and insights into space weather phenomena, contributing to more accurate forecasts and timely warnings.

Furthermore, a significant portion of the surveyed specialists emphasized the importance of investing in research initiatives and data analysis projects. By creating more job opportunities and supporting relevant research endeavors, we can bolster our understanding of space weather and fortify our forecasting capabilities.

Source: University of Reading

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