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Writer Fuel: Could a Solar Storm Destroy the Earth?

Solar Flare - Deposit Photos

All life on Earth owes its existence to the sun’s radiant heat. But what happens when that radiation surges out of control, and billions of tons of charged solar material suddenly barrel our way at thousands of miles a second? What happens when Earth takes a direct hit from a solar flare — and could a strong enough one ever destroy life on our planet as we know it?

The answers are complicated, but most scientists agree on one thing: Earth’s magnetic field and insulating atmosphere keep us extremely well protected from even the most powerful solar outbursts. While solar storms can tamper with radar and radio systems or knock satellites offline, the most harmful radiation is sopped up in the sky long before it touches human skin.

“We live on a planet with a very thick atmosphere… that stops all of the harmful radiation that is produced in a solar flare,” said Alex Young, Associate Director for Science in the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Even in the largest events that we’ve seen in the past 10,000 years, we see that the effect is not enough to damage the atmosphere such that we are no longer protected,” Young said in a 2011 video addressing fears that a solar flare would end the world in 2012.

“Writer Fuel” is a series of cool real-world stories that might inspire your little writer heart. Check out our Writer Fuel page on the LimFic blog for more inspiration.

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