The European Space Agency is launching the Solar Orbiter probe in 2020 and hope that the machine will help scientists forecast potentially catastrophic phenomena.
Solar storms occur when the sun releases a barrage of solar radiation, either through a coronal hole or a solar flare, into deep space.
For the most part, these storms miss our planet however, sometimes Earth does get caught up in the storm’s crosshairs.
If such a storm is strong enough, it has the potential to wipe out Earth’s technology.
Solar storms wreak havoc on global technology as the radiation which pummels our planet heats up the outer atmosphere, causing it to expand.
This means satellite signals will struggle to penetrate the swollen atmosphere, leading to a lack of Internet service, GPS navigation, satellite TV such as Sky and mobile phone signal.
Additionally, increased currents in the Earth’s magnetic field – or magnetosphere – could theoretically lead to a surge of electricity in power lines, which can blow out electrical transformers and power stations leading to a temporary loss of electricity.
The biggest storm known to us was the Carrington Event which occurred in September 1859.
During that solar storm, the sun unleashed a series of powerful solar flares that were so powerful telegraph operators’ offices experienced a surge in electricity which resulted in some buildings setting on fire.
The storm was so powerful its southern auroras could be seen as far north as Queensland in Australia and northern auroras were noted as far south as Cuba.
Researchers now believe the event was not a one-off and the sun could be set to release a storm just as powerful and they hope that the Solar Orbiter can help us prepare.
Catherine Burnett, head of the Met Office’s Space Weather Monitoring Unit told the Telegraph: “Solar Orbiter is a research mission which in the long term will to understand much more about the Sun and why it behaves as it does, so in the future it should help us spot disrupting events so we can prepare for them.
“The threat of space weather to national infrastructure, UK industry and the wider public is such that it is now part of the Government National Risk Register and there is a need for forecasting to try to mitigate that risk.
“We try to advise when space weather will have an impact on technology, so we’re looking for solar flares which can knock out high frequency telecommunications, coronal mass ejections which have the potential to take out our power grids and solar radiation which impact satellite communications systems and GPS.
“We think that the big solar incidents, like the Carrington Event, happen between 1 in 100 or 1 in 200 years so it is a case of ‘when not if’ we have one.”