Will the internet die? What happens if the internet turns off

Researchers are worried that the next solar storm that hits the U.S. could bring an “internet apocalypse,” shutting regions off from internet connections across the world.

  • The paper — which has not been peer-reviewed but was presented at the SIGCOMM 2021 data communication conference — suggests that a massive solar storm could disrupt our way of life.

What is a solar storm?

Solar storms happen after the sun sends out huge bursts of energy through solar flares, which are huge bursts of radiation when the sun’s magnetic field gives up its energy, according to NASA.

  • Solar storms are often considered the most explosive events in our solar systems. They can last for a few minutes or a few hours, according to the Deseret News.

Could a solar storm kill the internet?

A severe solar storm, the paper argues, would create an “internet apocalypse,” where parts of the world will go into internet darkness for weeks or even months, according to the researchers.

  • “What really got me thinking about this is that with the pandemic we saw how unprepared the world was. There was no protocol to deal with it effectively, and it’s the same with internet resilience,” Abdu Jyothi told Wired. “Our infrastructure is not prepared for a large-scale solar event.”

However, extreme solar storms — ones capable of creating this kind of problem — are rare. According to LiveScience, the chances of an extreme weather event would be about 1.6% to 12% every 10 years.

  • There were only two of those storms in the last few hundred years, including one in 1859 and another in 1921.
  • Per LiveScience, the 1921 event — called the Carrington Event — “created such a severe geomagnetic disturbance on Earth that telegraph wires burst into flame.”

What does this mean?

This doesn’t mean you’re favorite Netflix or HBO Max show will go dark. Instead, it could mean that streaming services won’t work, you couldn’t do any work or production from home, banks might not have a chance to connect for money transfers.

Life would be totally different. You couldn’t pay bills. You couldn’t shop online. Your phone services and text messaging apps would be dead. Cloud storage would shut off. Small businesses, banking and even the military could fall apart.

“Losing connection though for a day would render the military’s use of the internet obsolete and effectively set military operations back 30 or more years and cost the country millions of dollars,” according to All Connect.

So, yeah, seeing the internet fall would not just be a snow day for workers. It would upend everything we know.

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