Space storms could cause mass blackouts and destroy computers, gov't agency warns

Huge solar storms could cause electricity blackouts, destroy computers and bring down the Internet and all communications, a study has found.

The Met Office has told U.K. ministers a flare up of the kind that has hit Earth two or three times in 200 years would cost the country 16 billion pounds ($20.5 million) in catastrophic damage.

Such flares generate intense magnetic fields over Earth, which in a flash could burn out delicate electronics and even set them on fire, The Sunday Times is reporting.

CLICK ON THE SUN FOR MORE

Britain risks being crippled by huge electrical disturbances caused by storms in space, unless a satellite network is built that can detect them coming.

The Met Office study said: "We find that for a one-in-100-year event, with no space weather forecasting capability, the gross domestic product loss to the United Kingdom could be as high as 15.9 billion pounds.

"With existing satellites nearing the end of their life, forecasting capability will decrease in coming years, so if no further investment takes place, critical infrastructure will become more vulnerable to space weather."

The report, co-authored by scientists from the British Antarctic Survey, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and Cambridge University, said the U.K. should construct an early warning system.

A network of satellites would monitor the Sun and give at least a week to predict a solar flare.

The National Grid would therefore prepare its power network and the Government warn computer users to switch off their devices.

The U.K. and other countries already have satellites doing this job, such as the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, launched in 1995 and the 2006 twin Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (Stereo) probes.

But because they’ve spent years in space exposed to fierce radiation, they will soon become ineffective.

In 1859 a giant solar flare doubled the Sun's brightness for a few minutes, followed by a surge in magnetism that caused powerful electrical currents in telegraph wires across Europe — igniting widespread fires.

Another in 1989 struck Quebec, in Canada, and burned out power cables led to a huge blackout.

Researchers fear another such event would burn out high-voltage cables and substations across the U.K.

The Cabinet Office recently updated its national emergency disaster plan to rank solar storms as one of the nation’s most serious natural hazards.

This story originally appeared in The Sun.