March 19, 2014
As we blithely went about our lives on July 23, 2012, we had no idea how close we were to a Revolution-esque technology blackout caused by a huge magnetic superstorm from the Sun.
The freak space weather was caused by a rapid succession of coronal mass ejections, intense eruptions from the surface of the Sun also known as solar flares, which sent a pulse of magnetised plasma hurtling out into space and through the Earth’s orbit. If it had happened just nine days earlier, our world would have been hit, potentially wreaking havoc with the electrical grid, knocking out satellites and GPS and costing economies billions of dollars.
Although very rare, these storms haven’t always passed the Earth by. In 1859, the planet was struck by the so-called Carrington event, which knocked out the telegraph system across the US and literally shocked some of its operators, as the Northern Lights streaked through the sky as far south as Hawaii.