A solar storm could cause an electromagnetic mess that could take a decade to clean up. The Sun’s complex magnetic field contains regions that disconnect and then reconnect, unleashing the energy of thousands of hydrogen bombs, hurling atomic fragments into space in what is called a coronal mass ejection (CME). CMEs can contain 10 billion tons of material and travel nearly 2,000 miles per hour. This high-energy electromagnetic waves include deadly ultraviolet and X-rays. When their detritus swamps our atmosphere near the poles, they create spectacular aurorae.
The effects on our planet: broadcasts are jammed, electronic doors open and shut on their own, elevators stopped with a jolt, streetlights go out, mass blackouts, the ground sizzles, surge of currents go through power lines, power grids trip, radars fail, satellites and GPS malfunction, and airborne jetliners are exposed to deadly radiation. The last time this happened was in 2003. Numerous satellites have been launched to study these solar storms.
The Sun remains violent and fascinating, and it affects us far more than any other celestial object in the universe. And for all the billions of dollars we spend, it still can disable our fancy technologies at a whim, at any time, and in a way that will take the unaware public and mass media by surprise.