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Researchers find evidence of largest-ever solar storm in ancient 14,300-year-old tree rings

Oct. 09, 2023.
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A similar solar storm today would be catastrophic for modern technological society

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Amara Angelica

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Amara Angelica is Senior Editor, Mindplex

Artist illustration of events on the Sun changing the conditions in Near-Earth space (credit: NASA)

Evidence of a largest-ever solar storm —a huge spike in radiocarbon levels—has been found by a team of scientists in ancient 14,300-year-old tree rings in the French Alps.

A similar solar storm today would be catastrophic for modern technological society, potentially wiping out telecommunications and satellite systems, causing massive electricity grid blackouts lasting months and costing us billions of pounds, the scientists say.

Miyake Events

Extreme solar storms could have huge impacts on Earth,” said Tim Heaton, Professor of Applied Statistics in the School of Mathematics at the University of Leeds. Nine such extreme solar storms—known as Miyake Events—have now been identified as having occurred over the last 15,000 years. 

The collaborative research is published today (Oct. 9) in the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences.

The largest, directly-observed solar storm occurred in 1859, known as the Carringon Event. It caused massive disruption on Earth, destroying telegraph machines and creating a night-time aurora so bright that birds began to sing, believing the Sun had begun to rise. 

Citation: Bard E, Miramont C, Capano M, Guibal F, Marschal C, Rostek F, Tuna T, Fagault Y, Heaton TJ (9-Oct-2023). A radiocarbon spike at 14,300 cal yr BP in subfossil trees provides the impulse response function of the global carbon cycle during the Late Glacial. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A Mathematical Physical and Engineering Sciences. DOI 10.1098/rsta.2022.0206 (pending publication)

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