Can Bitcoin survive a Carrington Event knocking out the grid? – Cointelegraph Magazine

In a massive solar storm that wreaks havoc on the infrastructure of modern economies, only the blockchain part may survive— Jason Potts

What is the Carrington Incident?

At a meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society in November 1859, British astronomer Richard Christopher Carrington said report “At noon on Thursday, September 1, during my usual observations of the shape and position of sunspots, I witnessed what appeared to be a very unusual phenomenon.”

This phenomenon caused brilliant aurora borealis all over the world, some as far south as Cuba, so bright that observers could read newspapers at night by the light.

Carrington event model. Source: NASA

This was the most intense geomagnetic storm in recorded history, likely the result of a coronal mass ejection from the sun colliding with the Earth’s magnetosphere, and would be of concern to the cryptocurrency industry if it occurred again today. A storm of such intensity could affect most of the electrical systems in use today, including satellites, internet service providers, power supplies and all forms of communication.

The geomagnetic disturbance was so intense that U.S. telegraph operators reported sparks flying from their equipment and, in some cases, igniting. Telegraph systems in Europe and North America broke down.

A close-up of an eruptive prominence with the Earth inserted at the approximate scale of the image
A close-up of an eruptive prominence with the Earth inserted at the approximate scale of the image. Taken July 1, 2002. Source: ESA and NASA-SOHO

Similar events were seen throughout the 20th century. In 1921, a solar storm was widely observed in and around New York City, USA. An electrical fault caused the commuter rail system to lose signaling and switching operations, blow a fuse, and set fire to a signal tower at Grand Central Terminal. The telegraph wires crackled and communication stopped.

Then in 1989, a storm caused power outages in much of Quebec, Canada. Scientists believe that in 774 an even more massive event than Carrington occurred, called the Miyake Event.

As Professor David Wallace at Mississippi State University I have written With, the potential impact could be devastating.

“It’s only a matter of time before Earth will be hit by another geomagnetic storm. A storm the size of the Carrington Event could wreak havoc on electrical and communications systems around the world, causing power outages that could last for weeks.” If is the size of the Miyake event, the outcome would be catastrophic for the world, with outages that could last for months, if not longer.”

What will happen to Bitcoin after a solar flare?

From home computers to the Internet to the birth of cryptocurrencies, an economic and technological revolution took place at the turn of the 21st century. This revolution relies entirely on the web of interconnected global communication systems.

Within these systems, traditional payment providers such as credit card companies, banks and money transfer companies form a “payment stack”. It is an interconnected block of trusted entities that process and settle electronic payment transactions.

Amazon Web Services experts report Most of these are still preserved in the dilapidated banking system originally built at the beginning of the late 20th century. Some banks have tried to upgrade, but “the majority have stayed with the tried-and-tested mainframes they trust to this day.”

Portrayed by CME Artists
An artist’s depiction of a coronal mass ejection.Source: NASA/CXC/INAF/Argiroffi, C. et al. S. Wiesinger

Satoshi Nakamoto, by contrast, is a decentralized payment system distributed across a network of computers or nodes, rather than relying on a verticalized system housed in a single entity’s servers or data centers. aimed to create There is no single point of failure when it comes to the Bitcoin network ledger. This is a feature that many characterize the network as more robust and flexible than other payment systems.

So which one will fare better in the Carrington event, or will both survive?

Sunspots and the “Golden Question”

Traditional payment systems incorporate certain redundancies and protections to ensure that the network and its nodes are protected from unrelated events such as hackers, weather, blackouts and power surges. Force majeure.

But a Carrington event-level solar storm represents a much larger extreme scenario, the impact of which experts can still only estimate, despite years of constant research.

“We monitor the sun continuously,” William Murtagh, program coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center, told Magazine. Another event will occur — it’s just a matter of when and how intense it will be.

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Regarding the magnetic phenomena of the Sun, SWPC scientists believe that the Sun’s dipole magnetic field (think north and south poles) tends to form at the end of the 11-year solar cycle, when a large, larger than the Earth’s magnetic field tends to form. Look for black dots. completely reversed.

Sunspots appear “always,” Murtaugh said, but they’re mostly seen when the sun is nearing a “solar maximum.” The next such maximum is expected to occur between 2024 and 2025.

“We’re keeping a close eye on it and all of a sudden there was an eruption,” Murtagh said. “When this eruption happens, it will produce a variety of emissions. Electromagnetic radiation, we get light speed loads.”

“We’re feeling it on Earth, and hours later it’s affecting some technology — energetic particles pouring in from this eruption. So now we’re talking about subatomic particles.” Protons and electrons pour in and affect many different types of equipment: satellites, astronauts, polar planes, etc. All can be affected by these energetic particles.”

Behind these lightspeed projections from the Sun are billions of tons of plasma gas and magnetic fields erupting from flare sources, also known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs). The sun essentially shoots a magnet into space.

“The CME came to Earth as a magnetic host with a magnetic field, so now it has two magnets,” he says. “When they combine in just the right way, […] Intense electrical currents form and appear here on Earth, flow to the ground — depending on the conductivity of the soil beneath us — and can damage equipment like power grids.

“So, if a Carrington-class event were to occur, how large a radiation storm could it be? That’s really the golden question here, isn’t it?”

Scientists are looking at a variety of indicators, from ice samples to tree rings, to glean what impact such an event might have, and to understand “how big.” We’ve identified a few events that might help.

NOAA is currently working on the Space Weather Benchmark Initiative initiated by the White House to better understand the consequences of these space weather events.

Auroras are caused by charged particles from the sun.Source: pexel

Will a Solar Flare Destroy Bitcoin?

We know there will be significant implications for technology-dependent economies and communication systems. Those that rely on integrated power grids and the global Internet are particularly vulnerable.

So how do cryptocurrencies work? Jason Potts, a professor at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and co-director of its Blockchain Innovation Hub, told the magazine that a Carrington event-level solar storm could be a major threat to the mainstream. It will certainly impact everything that relies on electronic infrastructure for its ability to manage, including the financial sector. and crypto.

“But the difference is that the crypto or blockchain economic infrastructure is decentralized,” he said, adding:

“This is the same reason the Internet is robust. If there is enough redundancy in the route, the message can get through.”

According to Potts, thousands of decentralized Bitcoin nodes will greatly increase the chances of the network surviving a catastrophic event. If even one survives, the entire system can be rebuilt from its seed. “

blockstream satellite
Blockstream’s satellites send the Bitcoin blockchain back to earth.Source: Blockstream

What happens to Bitcoin if the internet goes down?

There are projects that provide connectivity to the Bitcoin blockchain without requiring internet access, yet another level of redundancy.

Fernando Nikolic, Blockstream’s director of marketing and communications, told Cointelegraph that Blockstream’s mission is to broadcast the Bitcoin network “27/4, 365” worldwide via satellite. .

“Protects users from network interruptions. We have started recording a specific region of the world that for some reason does not have a reliable internet connection. It is a very rural area with poor infrastructure. Or it’s in a government-controlled location, or maybe some entity controls the internet in a more authoritative way than we’re used to in the West,” he said. say.

Blockstream employs five continuously updating satellites to transmit the Bitcoin blockchain to users. Downloading the blockchain from one of the satellites is not as difficult as setting up a satellite TV box.

Nikolić says:

Once users have downloaded the blockchain, they can start validating their own transactions on their laptops connected to the satellite. “Satellite is a really good backup if the internet shuts down or doesn’t connect for some reason,” Nikolic adds.

Potts noted the importance of true decentralization of the blockchain network, as distributing the nodes across the four hemispheres of the earth ensures “security and safety through redundancy”: concludes.

“Maybe some of Mars would be good too. Blockchain isn’t fast or efficient, but it’s robust. It may be the only part that survives long enough to be rebuilt.”

The big question: Do we really need Bitcoin if the world is on fire?

Bitcoin’s decentralized and modular nature offers the best opportunities for relocation and improvisation based on available connections after significant geomagnetic events.

But if a Carrington-level event rendered all phones and computers inoperable across a hemisphere and knocked out the power grid, society could return to pre-industrial times.

The big problem would be: Even if the Bitcoin ledger survived, who would have time to use it as society struggles to rebuild?

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Aaron Wood

Aaron Wood is the editor of Cointelegraph and has a background in energy and economics. He focuses on blockchain applications for building smarter and equitable energy access globally.

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