Washington: Researchers have said that a rapid succession of coronal mass ejections - the most intense eruptions on the sun - sent a pulse of magnetized plasma barrelling into space and through Earth`s orbit in 2012.
Had the eruption come nine days earlier, it would have hit Earth, potentially wreaking havoc with the electrical grid, disabling satellites and GPS, and disrupting our increasingly electronic lives.
The solar bursts would have enveloped Earth in magnetic fireworks matching the largest magnetic storm ever reported on Earth, the so-called Carrington event of 1859.
The dominant mode of communication at that time, the telegraph system, was knocked out across the United States, literally shocking telegraph operators. Meanwhile, the Northern Lights lit up the night sky as far south as Hawaii.
Former UC Berkeley post doctoral fellow and research physicist Ying D. Liu, now a professor at China`s State Key Laboratory of Space Weather, UC Berkeley research physicist Janet G. Luhmann and their colleagues report their analysis of the magnetic storm, which was detected by NASA`s STEREO A spacecraft.
Luhmann, who is part of the STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Observatory) team and based at UC Berkeley`s Space Sciences Laboratory, said that had the storm hit Earth, it probably would have been like the big one in 1859, but the effect today, with our modern technologies, would have been tremendous.
A study last year estimated that the cost of a solar storm like the Carrington Event could reach 2.6 trillion dollars worldwide. A considerably smaller event on March 13, 1989, led to the collapse of Canada`s Hydro-Quebec power grid and a resulting loss of electricity to six million people for up to nine hours.
The paper has been published in the journal Nature Communications.