Ancient ice reveals mysterious solar storm that occurred millennia ago

Analysis of ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica allowed a research team led by Sweden's Lund University to find evidence of an extreme solar storm that occurred around 9,200 years ago.

According to scientists, what intrigues them is that the storm would have happened during one of the quietest phases of the Sun – a period when Earth is believed to be normally less exposed to such events.

Researchers analyzed ice cores from Antarctica and Greenland and identified a solar eruption that took place more than 9,000 years ago. Image: Eleanor Scriven – Shutterstock

When there is strong activity on the solar surface, more energy is released, something that can give rise to geomagnetic eruptions, also known as solar storms. Upon reaching Earth, solar winds from these events can cause power outages and communication disturbances.

Solar storm occurred in the passive phase of the Sun

Predicting solar storms is not easy. These events are currently believed to be most likely to occur during an active phase of the Sun, or solar maximum, in the so-called sunspot cycle. However, the new study, which was published in Nature Communications, shows that this may not always be the case for very large storms.

“We studied drilling cores from Greenland and Antarctica and discovered traces of a huge solar storm that hit Earth during one of the passive phases of the Sun around 9,200 years ago,” says Raimund Muscheler, a geology researcher at Lund University. .

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Muscheler and his team scoured the drilling cores for spikes in the radioactive isotopes beryllium-10 and chlorine-36, which are produced by high-energy cosmic particles that arrive at Earth and can be preserved in ice and sediment.

“This is time-consuming and expensive analytical work. So we were pleasantly surprised when we found this peak, indicating a hitherto unknown giant solar storm in connection with low solar activity,” Muscheler said.

If a similar solar storm were to occur today, it could have devastating consequences. In addition to power outages and radiation damage to satellites, it could pose a major danger to air traffic and astronauts, as well as cause various communication systems to collapse.

“These huge storms are not currently sufficiently included in risk assessments,” Muscheler revealed. “It is extremely important to analyze what these events could mean for current technology and how we can protect ourselves,” he suggested.

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