By Matthew Jones • Jan 22, 2020
There’s an energy source producing 38,460 septillion watts, every single second. We all know it and we owe a lot to it. Most things in fact, without it; there wouldn’t be much of ...anything! No it’s not Elon Musk’s latest desert-based energy experiment, it is of course: the sun.
While we may think of the sun as being an ever-present factor in our lives, it does not mean it is not subject to change. It may be 150 million km away but that doesn’t mean we aren’t close enough to be effected by the ups and downs of the sun’s cycles.
In this blog, we’re going to be taking a look at a few ways in which strong magnetic fields, whether from the sun or another source, can disrupt many parts of your digital life, especially your data.
The Carrington Event
Back in 1859, when the the world’s electronic communications infrastructure was in infancy, a major world effect took place. Coined the ‘Carrington Event’, after one of the astronomers that observed it, it was a major solar event that caused global chaos to the telegraph network.
The chaos was all due to what is known as a CME: a Coronal Mass Ejection. It is, in simple terms, a massive burst of plasma and accompanying magnetic fields launched from the sun. The reason this has such a major effect of electrical networks is due to the same field that usually ‘protects’ us here on earth.
The earth is surrounded by what is referred to as a ‘magnetosphere’. This means that whenever the sun’s activity results in smaller bursts of magnetic fields, a common occurrence, the magnetosphere acts as ‘protection’ against it. However, in the event of a major CME, on the scale of the Carrington Event, the same magnetosphere starts to ‘wobble’ and cause electrical charges to be pushed forwards and backwards through the atmosphere.
As can be imagined, this can put electrical devices under severe strain; leading to widespread malfunction and breakages. During the Carrington Event, telegraph machine owners experienced a wide range of bizarre activity.Their machines gave them electric shocks, the printed paper contained within them caught fire and most strangely of all: many of the devices could be used to send messages without being connected to a power source!
The Modern Day and Magnetic Disturbances
The Carrington Event may have caused widespread disruption in nineteenth century terms but if a similar event were to occur today then the results would be disastrous. On a global level, we now depend so much on electrical networks in every single aspect of life that the effects would be catastrophic.
However, before you start panicking and building your own bunker; it’s good to know that such a large scale CME as the Carrington Event hitting the earth is fairly rare. Well, fairly rare anyway; there was a CME that narrowly avoided the earth in 2012.
What is much more common is a smaller CME such as the one that occurred in 1989. This CME was many times smaller but still knocked off power to the whole of Quebec’s power grid for 12 hours, during the middle of winter. Many insurers are aware of the threats that CMEs pose, with estimates of knock-on effects totalling trillions, see Lloyd’s threat risk impact assessment for an indepth look at the subject.
Protecting Your Data
In the event of a CME, or an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) from a man-made source, there will be many high-impact areas of life that will be affected. However, once these areas have been addressed and the economy has entered a recovery phase, you will want to be safe in the knowledge that your data will have been protected. Traditional spinning hard disk drives are particularly susceptible to magnetic interference and can easily corrupt due to it. It has been shown that hard disks are so sensitive to changes due to the way they function, that even when they are not being used, they wear out faster that during normal use: something to this about in the event of power failure that may be brought on by magnetic interference.
As part of our Picturepark Suisse Safe offering, we are pleased to be able to offer a layer of additional security: the tape backups that we use provide a much greater degree of protection against magnetic fields. This is because tape itself is a non-conductive material (see: how it works) and tape is generally very safe. Due to this, your data is much safer against the hidden threat of magnetic fields than if it were just a single-location in a standard datacentre.
This blog is part of a series about Picturepark’s Suisse Safe offering. Delivering back-up technology to help mitigate the effect of data loss due to electromagnetic incidents.