Powerful solar flares can trigger internet outages around the world. This prediction was made at the SIGCOMM 2021 conference by US researcher Sangeeta Abdu Jyoti.
Solar flares accompanied by coronal ejections are one of the most powerful transient phenomena in the solar system.
However, powerful solar flares are rarely observed – all of the three known occurred before the Internet era. However, after three decades of low solar activity, there is a chance that such an event will occur.
Therefore, the assistant professor at the University of California at Irvine Sangeeta Abdu Jyoti decided to assess their threat.
The researcher estimates that solar flares pose the greatest threat to underwater Internet highways connecting entire countries. Despite the fact that the optical fiber is not affected by geomagnetically-induced flash currents, the electronics of repeaters located every 50-100 kilometers are vulnerable to them.
However, the risk will differ for different cables. So, Southeast Asia will suffer less: the Internet backbones are shorter there, and the solar flare will cause more damage in high latitudes.
Longer cables connecting the US and Europe are at the greatest risk. For local and regional Internet infrastructure, the threat is minimal, since the cables there are often grounded.
Even a powerful solar flare will not lead to a complete shutdown of the Internet, Jyoti admits, but it can seriously destabilize it. In addition, such a phenomenon will disable all equipment in earth orbit, which will deprive humanity of satellite Internet and global positioning systems.