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Radioactive particles from huge solar storm found in Greenland

15 March 2019

Solar storms occur when massive bursts of energy hurtle from the Sun towards Earth.

And one hitting Earth could have huge consequences as they have the potential to wipe out electronic systems on Earth, causing blackouts and stopping digital communication.

According to the researchers, it is the third known case of such a massive solar storm hitting Earth in historical times. "A solar proton event of such magnitude occurring in modern times could result in severe disruption of satellite-based technologies, high frequency radio communication and space-based navigation systems", they write in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The matter entails proof of a robust solar storm that occurred in 660 BCE.

Professor Raimund Muscheler, from Lund University in Sweden, said: "If that solar storm had occurred today, it could have had severe effects on our hi-tech society". The researchers now plan to carry out a systematic search to better understand just how often big solar storms hit Earth, so we can be better prepared for them.

Previous research found that extreme proton storms can generate radioactive atoms of beryllium-10, chlorine-36 and carbon-14 in the atmosphere.

We've seen SPEs in the past, affecting Canada in 1989 and Sweden in 2003.

"There are high-energy solar energetic particle events, or solar proton events", Muscheler told Paul Rincon at BBC News. It should be noted that this solar storm that had hit the planet in the ancient period is one about 10 times stronger than any sun storm recorded in modern history. "These produce the geomagnetic storms".

The effects of a'super solar storm' on our technological world could be devastating, burning out power stations, cutting water supplies, and leaving satellites dead in the skies.

The find shows that the danger of solar storms has been "underestimated", the researchers say.

Today that extra radiation would be potentially unsafe for astronauts on the ISS and passengers flying on planes at high altitude, besides threatening a lot of the modern technology we've come to rely on.

In the past, scientists have used ice cores to locate two other major solar storms, one which took place in 775 AD and another in 994 AD.

To learn more about SPEs, Lund University's Professor Raimund Muscheler and his colleagues from Sweden, France, Switzerland, Korea, the UAE, and the USA analyzed ice cores from Greenland.

"We need to search systematically for these events in the environmental archives to get a good idea about the statistics - that is, the risks - for such events and also smaller events".

Radioactive particles from huge solar storm found in Greenland