This guide from Nasa explains what happens when the powerful magnetic fields in and around the sun reconnect, which could lead to a "solar superstorm".
The last known large scale 'solar-superstorm' occurred in 1859, but is likely to occur every one to 200 years.
In the Carrington event, sparks were sent flying from telegraph pylons, causing fires, as energetic currents from the blast hit the earth.
Night skies were lit up by aurora displays, following a large solar flare.
At that time, there were no satellites in orbit or sensitive microchips in the path of the particles.
If an event of this scale were to hit today, the electricity grid could be affected, along with aircraft and navigation systems.
Experts are warning that another solar-superstorm on the scale of the 1859 Carrington event is inevitable.
The Earth was hit by a tidal wave of energetic particles following a large solar flare.
An example of an eruption associated with solar flares on the sun.
A new report from the Royal Academy of Engineering has suggested a UK Space Weather Board is needed, to lead and supervise government strategy for coping with such a radiation blast if it were to happen again.
Scientist have warned that Britain needs to be prepared in the event of a 'solar-superstorm'.
At the risk of large scale blackouts and interference to satellites and GPS systems, they are urging the Government, to establish a new board of experts to lead a strategy to deal with such an event.
– Professor Paul Cannon, who chaired the Academy's working group on extreme solar weather
The Academy recommends that government sets up a Space Weather Board to oversee these issues across government departments.
Our message is: Don't panic, but do prepare - a solar superstorm will happen one day and we need to be ready for it.
- One in ten orbiting satellites could be knocked out for days during a superstorm event
- Any that keep orbiting, could 'age', meaning they would need to be replaced
- GPS signals would be interrupted one to three days after the storm hit as satellite transmissions to the ground are disrupted
- Navigating officers in aircraft and ships would temporarily have to revert to old-fashioned "dead reckoning"
- Energetic particles from the blast could interfere with aircraft electronics
- A superstorm could end large induced currents through the electricity grid network, potentially causing blackouts
- For passengers on high flying aircraft, a superstorm would deliver a radiation dose equivalent to three CT scans, although below harmful levels, astronauts would be at risk
A once-in-a-century "solar superstorm" could hit the earth in the near future, causing black-outs, and a loss in satellite communications, scientists have warned.
Statistically likely to occur every one to 200 years, the last true superstorm, known as the "Carrington event", occurred in 1859.
Experts are warning that another superstorm is inevitable, with a need for a 'UK Space Weather Board', to lead and supervise government strategy for coping with the fallout of such a radiation blast.