Solar storm 2021: Massive storm may cause Internet apocalypse, warn researchers

Solar storm 2021: There is another solar storm coming, and the Internet, which is the backbone of almost every activity that happens in the world today, be it governance, medicine, manufacturing, banking or even education, is under threat again. A new report on solar storm impact suggests that a massive upcoming solar storm is likely to damage the infrastructure and in the process cause a massive internet apocalypse.

According to a research paper published by Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi of the University of California, Irvine and VMware Research, a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), popularly known as a solar storm, is a directional ejection of a large mass of highly magnetized particles from the sun. When the earth is in the direct path of a solar storm, these magnetized and charged solar particles will interact with the earth’s magnetic field and produce several effects, which includes damaging long-distance cables that constitute the backbone of the Internet.

Now, the present day internet primarily uses fiber optic cables, which are immune to a solar storm unlike the previous generation of coaxial cables, since it carries light and not electric current. However, longhaul cables that stretch hundreds or thousands of kilometers also have an accompanying conductor that connects repeaters in series along the length of cables called the power feeding line. Solar storm impact will affect this conductor, as per the researcher.


Solar storm 2021 infra threat: Furthermore, the researcher says that the submarine cables are more vulnerable to a solar storm than land cables, primarily due to their larger lengths. The researcher also says the impact of a solar storm on the internet infrastructure is also based on topology. For instance, the US is highly susceptible to disconnection from Europe. Europe is in a vulnerable location but is more resilient due to the presence of a larger number of shorter cables. Asia has relatively high resilience with Singapore acting as a hub with connections to several countries. “Google data centers have better resilience than Facebook’s,” the researcher wrote.

While under-the-sea cables are more impacted by solar storms, the researcher says that communication satellites are among the most severely systems that can be affected by a solar storm. “The damages are not caused by GIC but due to direct exposure to highly charged particles in CMEs...Threats to communication satellites include damage to electronic components and extra drag on the satellite, particularly in low earth orbit systems such as Starlink that can cause orbital decay and uncontrolled reentry to earth,” the researcher wrote.


Solar storm 2021 impact: If you are wondering what sort of an effect this solar storm will have on the Internet then researcher Jyothi has some clues for you. The researcher says that most of the repeaters are highly susceptible to failure. And if most of the repeaters on a network go offline, it could create an internet blackout in a nation that only relies on undersea cables. The Internet today has been designed in a way that even if one pathway fails, it could be rerouted through another pathway. But this would come at an immense cost to both connectivity and speed. That said, it is difficult to predict exactly what will happen when the solar storm hits. In any case, it is safe to say that it won’t be good. Having said that, it will all depend on how massive the solar storm is - size actually matters.


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