The White House is developing a plan to protect American interests against an electromagnetic pulse caused by solar flares that has the potential to wipe out power around the world.
It may sound far-fetched, but it's happened before. Back in 1859 the Earth was walloped with a huge amount of solar activity known as the Carrington event. The solar activity was so high that the northern lights were spotted as far south as Cuba and Honolulu, and telegraph operators reported seeing sparks leap from their devices.
In our much more high-tech world, the impact today would be far greater, with the potential to wipe out and shut down power grids, cell phone technology, GPS devices, and even the Internet. A National Academy of Sciences report from 2008 suggested the cost of such an event could be $2.6 trillion.
See images of some of the wildest solar flares:
Solar flares (the sun)
White House is preparing for catastrophic solar flares that could have devastating impact on Earth
The sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 7:28 p.m. EST on Dec. 19, 2014. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured an image of the event. (Photo via NASA/SDO)
On Feb. 24, 2014, the sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 7:49 p.m. EST. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which keeps a constant watch on the sun, captured images of the event. These SDO images from 7:25 p.m. EST on Feb. 24 show the first moments of this X-class flare in different wavelengths of light -- seen as the bright spot that appears on the left limb of the sun. Hot solar material can be seen hovering above the active region in the sun's atmosphere, the corona.
Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation, appearing as giant flashes of light in the SDO images. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however -- when intense enough -- they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel. (Photo via NASA/SDO)
The bright flash of an X1.6-class flare can be seen on the right side of the sun in this image captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. This image shows extreme ultraviolet light of 131 Angstroms, which highlights the intensely hot material of a flare and which is typically colorized in teal. (Photo via NASA/SDO)
On Oct. 25, 2014, the sun emitted its fifth substantial flare since Oct.19. This flare was classified as an X1-class flare and it peaked at 1:08 p.m. EDT, as seen as a bright flash of light in this image from NASA's SDO. The image shows extreme ultraviolet light in the 131-angstrom wavelength, which highlights the intensely hot material in a flare and which is typically colorized in teal. (Photo via NASA/SDO)
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of an X2.0-class solar flare bursting off the lower right side of the sun on Oct. 27, 2014. The image shows a blend of extreme ultraviolet light with wavelengths of 131 and 171 Angstroms. (Photo via NASA/SDO)
The bright flash of an M-class flare is seen exploding on the left side of the sun in this image from Nov. 5, 2014. The image was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory in extreme ultraviolet light that was colorized in red and gold. (Photo via NASA/SDO)
On Jan. 27, 2012, a large X-class flare erupted from an active region near the solar west limb. X-class flares are the most powerful of all solar events. Seen here is an image of the flare captured by the X-ray telescope on Hinode. This image shows an emission from plasma heated to greater than eight million degrees during the energy release process of the flare. (Photo via JAXA/Hinode)
IN SPACE - JANUARY 23: In this handout from the NOAA/National Weather Service's Space Weather Prediction Center, shows the coronal mass ejection (CME) erupting from the sun late January 23, 2012. The flare is reportedly the largest since 2005 and is expected to affect GPS systems and other communications when it reaches the Earth's magnetic field in the morning of January 24. (Photo by NOAA/National Weather Service's Space Weather Prediction Center via Getty Images)
IN SPACE - JANUARY 23: In this handout from the NOAA/National Weather Service's Space Weather Prediction Center, shows a solar flare erupting from the sun late January 23, 2012. The flare is reportedly the largest since 2005 and is expected to affect GPS systems and other communications when it reaches the Earth's magnetic field in the morning of January 24. (Photo by NOAA/National Weather Service's Space Weather Prediction Center via Getty Images)
The sun erupted with one of the largest solar flares of this solar cycle on March 6, 2012 at 7PM ET. ?This flare was categorized as an X5.4, making it the second largest flare -- after an X6.9 on August 9, 2011 -- since the sun's activity segued into a period of relatively low activity called solar minimum in early 2007. The current increase in the number of X-class flares is part of the sun's normal 11-year solar cycle, during which activity on the sun ramps up to solar maximum, which is expected to peak in late 2013. (Photo by NASA/SDO/AIA/Handout/Corbis via Getty Images)
ABERDEEN, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 27: EXCLUSIVE. Northern Lights near Torphins at 00.34Hrs on November 27, 2003 in Aberdeen, Scotland. The purple and green rays appear to flare as well as move rapidly sideways. Dancing across the skies these images Britain's most spectacular psychedelic light shows over the past 20 years. Over the last two decades photographer, Jim Henderson, 62, has witnessed 350 aurora displays in the UK, and has only ever had to travel more than a few miles from his cottage 25 miles west of Aberdeen to capture his amazing images. Dedicated Jim has collected an archive of over 5000 images in the 22 years he has been painstakingly recording auroras. Most people think to truly witness the magnificence of the aurora borealis - or northern lights as they are commonly known- they need to travel thousands of miles to the freezing Icelandic tundra or remote Canadian mountains. And last weekend's lack of any aurora appearance - despite widespread reports that one was imminent - will have done nothing to quash this view. But as these pictures prove the incredible sight can be just as visible in the familiar British countryside as the frozen landscape of the Arctic circle. (Photo by Jim Henderson / Barcroft Media / Getty Images)
The government plans to work with various entities to release new space environment data and launch a space weather data initiative. It will also work to train emergency management on space weather events, increase international collaboration and publish more information about space weather in transportation reports.
As National Geographic reported, "the eastern half of the United States is particularly vulnerable, because the power infrastructure is highly interconnected, so failures could easily cascade like chains of dominoes."
"Imagine large cities without power for a week, a month, or a year," Daniel Baker, of the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, said. "The losses could be $1 to $2 trillion, and the effects could be felt for years."
WATCH: NASA releases mesmerizing video of the sun: