Europe launched its first space weather coordination centre Wednesday to raise the alarm for possible satellite-sizzling solar storms that also threaten astronauts in orbit, plane passengers and electricity grids on Earth.
Though impossible to predict, a worst-case scenario mega-storm can happen at any time, leaving the world without Internet, telephones, television, electricity and air and rail transport for days on end.
Limited precautions can be taken, but early warning is key, say experts at the European Space Agency (ESA) which runs the centre from Brussels.
“A pilot can always land a plane… because they have alternatives (to satellites) for navigation, but if they get the disturbance without warning, at the wrong time, that can be dangerous,” Juha-Pekka Luntama, head of ESA’s space weather division told AFP at the launch.
Even a slight satellite glitch can put navigation out by 100 metres (yards) — enough to miss a runway.