I'm under the impression that a sufficiently powerful solar flare can temporarily disrupt and even damage electronics.

Are there any practical approaches that one could take to minimize this disruption? In particular, what can be done to protect mission critical hardware which needs to remain running during the event?

  • This seems to be off-topic for security.stackexchange.com. Not sure where it might be more appropriate... perhaps electronics.stackexchange.com since it's primarily a question about hardware protection rather than being about and particular system type? – Johnny Apr 3 '14 at 21:54

Shielding can be used to some extent. A Faraday cage, an underground bunker... can do wonders. Usually, the power grid will suffer most from a solar flare, because it is all unshielded obsolete under-maintained hardware, stretched to the max and beyond by competing regulations and market forces, and more often than not plain incompetence. So you first defence against a solar flare is an UPS.

Ultimately, protection against solar flares is similar to protection against the EMP from a nuclear blast, which is discussed in this previous question. Solar flares have the special characteristic of hitting a whole hemisphere at a time (the "day" half of the Earth), so if you want to maintain critical infrastructure through redundancy, then you have to spread it all around the World, literally.

Even more ultimately, if the solar flare is big enough, then we are all dead, and the question becomes moot.

  • 2
    Also, use non-conductive cables wherever possible. Fiber-optic network cable instead of copper, for instance; Fiber transcievers are remarkably low priced compared to fiber network cards, and they're also a useful defense against lightning strikes and other power surges coming in on your WAN cable, if that's copper. Air gaps between grid power and your computers (i.e. have multiple sets of batteries; no set connected to both the grid and any of your computers at the same time.) – Anti-weakpasswords Apr 4 '14 at 3:45
  • If the solar flare is big enough, are we all dead, or just the unlucky hemisphere? – Shane Di Dona Jan 4 '16 at 23:59
  • @ShaneDiDona: depends on "big enough". Conceptually, a solar flare could simply terminally irradiate any living organism on an hemisphere, leaving the other one intact, except for the severe disruption in ecosystems. This has been proposed as a possible mechanism for some past global extinction events, with no definitive proof. A much bigger flare, really the Sun going nova, could wrap the Earth in very hot matter ejected from the Sun, effectively cooking everybody -- it is unclear whether the Sun can actually do that before reaching its old age, in about 4 or 5 billions of years. – Tom Leek Jan 5 '16 at 15:12

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