Did you witness the colourful night-time display over the skies of Britain on 10th May?  The Northern Lights were spotted as far south as us in Kent, a truly rare occurrence which lit up social media with posts of purple and green curtains of light over Tonbridge Castle.

There couldn’t be any harm in these natural pyrotechnics, could there?  The opening of John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids counsels us to be wary; a green meteor shower causes everyone who saw it to go blind.  There have, of course, been no such reports following the recent nocturnal events!

The Northern Lights are the result of solar flares: magnetised plasma which can be a part of a coronal mass ejection.  Solar flares can take place as frequently as daily but their impact is not always felt on Earth. 

According to BBC Science Focus, if a solar storm were to strike Earth (or one of its orbiting satellites), the consequences could be far-reaching: disruption of internet, navigation, communications, GPS time synchronisation – upon which the internet relies – and power.  If a satellite were to be hit, the resulting electromagnetic radiation could burn out the electrical transformers in our power grids, causing long-term outages. 

To put the risks into perspective, the last big strike occurred in 1859, a time when the use of electricity was not widespread, thus not disturbing the functioning of everyday life which would certainly have been the case had it occurred in more recent years.  Nowadays scientists monitor solar activity which should allow for 2 days’ notice of any catastrophic impact on Earth.

What would life be like if such an apocalyptic event occurred?  The TV drama series Cobra played out one such scenario: a solar flare in Europe impacts infrastructure and leads to social and political chaos, a very challenging situation for the UK premier played by Robert Carlyle.

Our society’s reliance on electricity and IT means that the threat to Earth’s infrastructures should be taken seriously.  Just consider the disruption to your office when your internet goes down!

On this occasion, the Northern Lights in Southern England are worth celebrating.  If your business IT is impacted by something a little more mundane than a solar flare, you should be talking to the Computer Troubleshooters.