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Scientists Predict a Deadly Solar Storm In 2025 - Will It Happen?

VOICE OVER: Peter DeGiglio
A storm is coming... will we survive? Join us... and find out!

The solar system is now in the middle of what scientists call Solar Cycle 25... and between now and the year 2025, it's going to get more and more threatening! In this video, Unveiled takes a closer look at recent predictions that Earth might be heading for trouble, and it's all thanks to the sun!
Transcript

Scientists Predict a Deadly Solar Storm in 2025 - Will It Happen?


What would happen if space turned against us? What chance would we stand against the almighty power of the cosmos? When we think about world-ending events that could strike our planet from afar, it’s usually asteroids that are top of the list of things to worry about… but, really, there’s another threat lurking on the horizon, and scientists fear that it could be about to unleash itself.

This is Unveiled, and today we’re exploring the extraordinary possibility that Earth will be hit by a deadly solar storm in the year 2025. And we’re asking… will it happen?

In early 2021, news broke of the first ever confirmed space hurricane. This spectacular space weather event was actually recorded back in August 2014, as a swirling, 600-mile-wide mass of electrons that had gathered hundreds of miles above the North Pole. At the time, and although it reportedly raged for more than eight hours, it passed by mostly unnoticed. As it was the height of summer, there wasn’t even much by way of an aurora in the arctic sky to hint that the hurricane was taking place. The people of Earth went about their daily lives as usual, and besides some mild interference felt by a limited number of satellites… all was well. But these things come and go in cycles, and scientists believe the next peak will come in the year 2025. So, what should we expect? According to some, the effects next time could be much more severe.

Really, a space hurricane is but one of a range of space weather events that do (and will) bombard our planet. And most of everything that happens in the upper atmosphere can be traced back to the sun. It may be a vitally important part of the solar system, but so much about the sun is still shrouded in mystery. In more recent decades we’ve studied it in greater detail, and now know more than ever about how its energy fuels our planet. But, for all the hope and goodness that the sun throws our way, its extreme power is also incredibly dangerous. And were it not for the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere, our world would be far different (and far less liveable) than it currently is.

In September 2020, a group of scientists from NASA and NOAA - the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - released details to the public of what’s known as Solar Cycle 25. It was deemed that by then we had passed through the solar minimum - the time when solar activity is at its lowest - which was in December 2019. From that point, activity had gradually increased, so much so that scientists knew we had entered into a new cycle. The Solar Cycle 25 Prediction Panel was set up to, unsurprisingly, predict what the sun would have in store for us… but, most importantly, it gave us all a date for our diaries. July 2025. Because that’s when it’s thought the solar maximum will arrive again. The point at which solar activity reaches its peak.

So, what do we mean by solar activity? It’s primarily measured based on the number of sunspots that are visible on the sun’s surface. Sunspots are temporarily darker regions seen on the sun, that are often accompanied by (or followed by) various solar phenomena - including increased radiation, solar flares, and coronal mass ejections (or CMEs). More often than not, solar flares erupt from the sun and Earth is unaffected, as they lash out into another region of space and toward other planets, instead. But, sometimes, a flare or CME shoots out of the sun in precisely our direction. And that’s when there could be trouble ahead.

The space hurricane mentioned at the top of this video took place around the last solar maximum, in Solar Cycle 24, in 2014 - with it taking around eleven years to move through each solar cycle. History shows us that the effects on Earth were minimal, but we do know that the hurricane was powered by the sun. The electrons that rained down within it were brought here in plasma carried along by solar winds. Two years earlier, though, in 2012, we famously had an even closer call, when a coronal mass ejection shot out towards Earth… but thankfully missed a direct hit by a margin of about nine days. Again, most of humankind was blissfully unaware of the cosmic near miss happening in the space above us... but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t cause for concern.

Scientists are increasingly interested in space weather because the potential impact it could have on our daily lives is going up and up. That’s because so much of our technology now relies on what’s happening high in Earth’s atmosphere, where all our satellites orbit. The electron rain of a space hurricane, for example, may never cause physical destruction on the ground in the same way as the rain and winds of a traditional hurricane can… but, equally, a traditional hurricane doesn’t reach high enough to threaten widespread GPS. Or the internet. Storm surges can cause local blackouts, sure. But space weather has the potential to cause international blackouts, and not just in the expected ways, either.

The 2012 CME that just missed us was billed by many as a “Carrington class superstorm”… referring to the Carrington Event, a massive solar storm that struck Earth in September 1859. This event set the bar for the future of space weather, at the time causing widespread electrical disruptions. But, of course, Earth was a very different place back then, and widespread electrical disruptions could never have quite the same impact as they would do today. Were a powerful enough, Carrington class event to happen tomorrow, then, the destruction it could cause could be immense.

Say all or most of our satellites were frazzled. There’d be huge losses across the board in communication technology, leaving us without even basic phone signal. That’s annoying if you were planning on phoning friends later that day, but its critical if you’re trying to run a business that relies in any way on digital connections. Or if you were in sudden need of the emergency services. Most organizations have backup systems and generators, but the instantaneous links that we’ve all come to expect would be gone.

In this scenario, you might be inclined to just sit back, watch TV, and wait for all of this to blow over… except you couldn’t do that, because TV wouldn’t work without satellites. Most of the internet would be down, too, and what was left of it would be extremely slow. Credit and debit cards wouldn’t work. And neither would ATMs. You’d find yourself in the middle of a personal financial crisis, but it would be nothing compared to what’s happening at the banks themselves, or on the stock markets. The blackouts here equal economic disaster on a global scale.

Finally, while all of this is unfolding, satellite navigation is down, and GPS systems are out. Could you confidently find your way across country, or even across your city, without some form of maps app to guide you? Now you’d have no choice but to try. But the scariest part isn’t unfolding on the ground… it’s in the skies. With up to 20,000 planes in mid-flight at any given moment, and with all of those relying on GPS, when their maps go blank it’s an unparalleled disaster. Some flights might be able to safely land, but many others unfortunately wouldn’t.

Importantly, this is an absolute worst-case scenario. Nobody is currently predicting that this will happen in 2025. Or in any other year. But the tension around space weather is growing because of our increasing reliance on satellite technology. What’s clear is that we can’t do anything to stop solar storms or coronal mass ejections… but at the same time it feels almost impossible that we would slow down our technological growth. And that’s why there have been various predictions that 2025 could be an especially problematic year.

Between now and then, scientists definitely expect solar activity to increase to its next peak before dropping off again (as it has done for every solar cycle before now). The early predictions are also that there will be more activity in this cycle than there was in the previous one, Solar Cycle 24. However, most projections don’t see a dramatic difference, and many early reports have Solar Cycle 25 as still being weaker than average. As still seeing less solar activity than most.

But still, there’s no doubt that by 2025 the world will be ever more reliant on satellite technology. So, anything that even threatens it is a major concern. Will a genuinely deadly solar storm happen? It’s possible. It’s not guaranteed, but it is possible. Now, it’s up to Earth to prepare itself, just in case.
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