Fall Thru the Cracks Friday – How the Internet Could Fail

We at PLUS blog are pretty dependent on the internet – after all, without it this very blog (and all others) would cease to exist.

But what would happen if the internet failed, and is that even a possibility?

Well, it happened to us for 20 minutes this week and it was terrifying. It turned out to just be a service outage, but since it impacted both our office connectivity and our phone data connections we truly felt isolated. As luck would have it, several minutes after we got back online I came across an article on CNN.com called “Four ways the Internet could go down.”

The article deals with the usual suspects (cyber warfare, political mandates, cutting of cables by accident or with intent) but the one that made me pause related to space weather. From the article:

When a massive solar flare erupts on the sun, it can cause geomagnetic storms on the Earth. The largest solar eruption recorded so far was in 1859. Known as the Carrington flare, it sent telegraph wires across Europe and America into a sparking frenzy.

Since that time, the technology blanketing the planet has changed quite a bit. If we were to get another solar flare of that size now, what would happen? The answer is clear to space physicists and electrical engineers: it would blow out transformers and melt down our computer systems. In a small disruption in 1989, an electromagnetic storm arrested power throughout most of Quebec and halted the Toronto stock market for three hours.

A major solar event could theoretically melt down the whole Internet. What earthquakes, bombs, and terrorism cannot do might be accomplished in moments by a solar corona.

Happy summer!