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Solar Flares Are More Dangerous Than You Realized
Solar flares are explosive pockets of searing plasma that occur on the sun’s most active areas, known as sunspots. When they were first documented in 1859, solar flares only adversely affected the telegraph — but now with the world more dependent on technology than ever, how bad could the damage be if a potentially calamitous solar flare hits Earth?
Some of the biggest solar flares have caused major power outages, disrupted communications, and wreaked havoc on various electrical instruments throughout recorded history. In 1989, for instance, a severe one led to a massive blackout in Canada, with the energy of the flare akin to the fallout from numerous nuclear bombs.
NASA classifies M-Class flares as capable of causing short radio blackouts, while X-Class solar flares are deemed as the most dangerous, and can lead to world-wide blackouts and prolonged radiation storms that can even irradiate airline passengers. The one responsible for shutting down Canada’s power grid was classified as an X20 solar flare.
Although solar flares still pose plausible threats to communication systems like airplane towers or cellular phone service, modern power grids are now equipped with better protection against them. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has constant eyes on the sun as well, and can suggest precautionary measures should any anomalous readings occur.