By Jon Hamilton for NPR:
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A massive solar storm could leave millions of people around the world without electricity, running water, or phone service, government officials say.
That was their conclusion after participating in a tabletop exercise that looked at what might happen today if the Earth were struck by a solar storm as intense as the huge storms that occurred in 1921 and 1859.
Solar storms happen when an eruption or explosion on the surface of the sun sends radiation or electrically charged particles toward Earth. Minor storms are common and can light up the Earth’s Northern skies and interfere with radio signals.
Every few decades, though, the sun experiences a particularly large storm. These can release as much energy as 1 billion hydrogen bombs.
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The exercise, held in Boulder, Colorado, was intended to investigate “what we think could be close to a worst-case scenario,” says Tom Bogdan, who directs the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder.