Huge ancient solar storm revealed in tree rings in the French Alps

Annual growth rings inside the ancient remains of Scots pine trees in the southern French Alps have revealed evidence of the largest known solar storm, which if it had occurred today could have destroyed satellites and destroyed power grids.

Solar storms – the Sun sending a massive blast of energetic particles into space – occurred 14,300 years ago, researchers said Monday. Evidence of this appeared in the form of a huge spike in radiocarbon – an isotope, or form, of the element carbon – found in tree growth rings along the Drouzet River near the town of Gap. At the time, Earth was in the grip of the last ice age, as human hunter-gatherers were making a living in harsh conditions in many places around the world.

“At that time, those living on Earth may have seen a bright solar flare for the first time – a flash in the sky,” said Tim Heaton, a professor of applied statistics at the University of Leeds in England and one of the study’s authors. Published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Journal of the Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. “Then several hours later, they would likely have seen a giant aurora in the sky that would have extended much further toward the equator than the current aurora. They might not have noticed the high-energy particles or been aware that they were ground-based.” Experiencing magnetic disturbances,” Heaton said.

Energetic solar particles would have flooded Earth’s upper atmosphere, triggering a series of nuclear reactions and causing a sudden increase in the production of radiocarbon that would have been absorbed into the tissues of growing trees. Edouard Bard said, “About 10 years ago, scientists discovered that extreme solar events, including solar flares and coronal mass ejections, can produce short-lived bursts of energetic particles that can cause spikes in radiocarbon production that occur over the course of a year. Are.” Professor of Climate and Ocean Evolution at the Collège de France and the Research Center CEREGE.

Nine such extreme solar storms have now been identified using tree-ring radiocarbon evidence, the most recent of which occurred in 774 and 993 AD. The largest directly observed solar storm, called the Carrington Event, occurred in 1859, which wreaked havoc on telegraphs and produced nighttime light so bright that birds began to sing as if the sun were rising. Conditions 14,300 years ago would have been about 10 times more severe.

Electronics may become inoperable due to the effects of solar storms. “If similar solar storms occurred today, they could be devastating to society, because we are so dependent on technology,” Heaton said.

“They could cause massive damage to our power grids, potentially cause nationwide blackouts lasting several months, permanently disable satellites with huge bursts of energetic particles and destroy their solar panels ” “At the end of the last glacial period, buried trees began to fossilize but still retained organic matter,” Heaton said.

“The good preservation of the trunks and their life state – there are still roots, pieces of bark remaining – shows that the trees were buried early,” said study co-author Cécile Miramont, professor of palaeoenvironments and palaeoclimate at Aix. I went.” University of Marseille and research institute IMBE in France. “Subfossil wood originates when wood is buried in anaerobic environments with the absence of microbial and chemical degradation.” The researchers confirmed their findings by detecting the same spike in another chemical isotope in a Greenland ice-core the same year.

“We don’t know what causes such severe solar storms, how often they occur, or whether we can predict them,” Heaton said. “This is the big question: Will our communications, power grids and satellites be able to mostly withstand their impacts and suffer only temporary effects before quickly coming back online? Or will they fail catastrophically?”

(This story has not been edited by DavidDiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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