Sure, the sun gives us all the energy and warmth that we need to exist, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be a total jerk. Case in point: A powerful release of particles and plasma known as a coronal mass ejection could wreak unimaginable havoc if it hits the planet, frying the electrical grid and leaving entire regions stuck in an indefinite blackout. And depending on just where such a solar storm hit, a new study estimates it could cost nearly $50 billion in a single day.
Solar storms of that magnitude are rare, but hardly unheard of. A powerful storm known as the Carrington event would have cost the United States alone perhaps more than two trillion dollars if it had happened today instead of in 1859. The sun did even undergo just such a powerful coronal mass ejection in 2012, but it thankfully missed the Earth. Though it’s not the sort of thing likely to happen tomorrow, the odds are that it’s a matter of when, not if a serious solar storm hits our planet and knocking out our energy infrastructure, possibly doing permanent damage to transformers that aren’t easily replaced.
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