Traces of Radioactive Particles From Massive Solar Storm Discovered in Greenland Ice

Such an event could wreak havoc in today's hi-tech world researchers warn

Such an event could wreak havoc in today's hi-tech world researchers warn

The type of solar emission discovered in the Greenland ice is a particularly powerful type of solar storm called a solar proton event (SPE), which hit some 2,679 years ago. Should a similar event hit us today, it could have a devastating impact, potentially knocking out global communication systems, satellites, electrical grids and air traffic systems.

Although our planet's magnetic field keeps us blissfully unaware of it, the Earth is constantly being pelted with cosmic particles.

Solar storms occur when massive bursts of energy hurtle from the Sun towards Earth.

Now, an increasing amount of research indicates that solar storms can be even more powerful than measurements have shown so far via direct observations.

Solar storms can be far more powerful than previously thought.

"If that solar storm had occurred today, it could have had severe effects on our high-tech society". But this event almost 2,700 years ago appears to have been more than 10 times stronger than any storm we've detected in the last 70 years. "That's why we must increase society's protection against solar storms".

The tell-tale signs were elevated levels of beryllium-10 and chlorine-36 isotopes embedded in the ice, both evidence of chemical reactions kicked off by the Sun's activity reaching through Earth's magnetic shield to the surface.

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The team, who were studying ice nearly a third of a mile beneath the surface, found traces of the huge radiation blast which hit the earth during a storm in 660 BC, embedded in Greenland ice cores.

They found traces of chlorine and beryllium isotopes in the ice from the deadly storm over 2,500 years ago. The cores come from Greenland and contain ice formed over the past about 100,000 years.

The team of scientists, which examined the chemicals preserved in Greenland ice sheet, concluded that the storm was almost 10 times stronger than anything detected in past 70 years of modern measurements.

"There are high-energy solar energetic particle events, or solar proton events", Muscheler told Paul Rincon at BBC News.

On the basis of previous events, which have been identified between years 775 and 994, the scientists believe that these outbursts are probably a normal part of the Sun's cycle. "We need to be better prepared", concludes Raimund Muscheler.

The findings were published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Although more research is needed to see how much damage such eruptions might inflict, this work suggests "these enormous events are a recurring feature of the sun - we now have three big events during the past 3,000 years", Muscheler said.

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