Northern lights could send us back to the Stone Age

WASHINGTON – Don’t get too excited by that celestial light show.

The stunning aurora borealis soon may not be restricted to only northern lights. However, that would also signal the effective downfall of all humanity as it zaps out power grids worldwide and crucial communication and satellite networks.

Solar flares cause the streaking bands of lights across arctic night skies. A new study says there’s a 12 percent chance in the next 10 years of one so large it could resonate over Manhattan all the way down to the Caribbean, reports the New York Daily News.

It could cause up to trillions of dollars in damage, the Daily News reports, followed by a years-long recovery.

The potential for these flares shocked the researchers who conducted this study.

“Even if it’s off by a factor of two, that’s a much larger number than I thought,” says Peter Riley, a space physicist of Predictive Science in San Diego, according to the Wired Science blog.

Large flares in January caused stunning aurora borealis that made some pilots divert their planes to protect their vital instrumentation. It extended as far south as Wales, the AP reports.

That storm was part of the strongest solar storm in years, but the sun is likely to get even more active in the next few months and years, said physicist Doug Biesecker at the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo.

“To me this was a wake up call. The sun is reminding us that solar max is approaching,” Biesecker said. “A lot worse is in store for us. We hope that you guys are paying attention. I would say we passed with flying colors.”

Learn more about what happened the last time solar flares this size hit Earth at the original article.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP and the Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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