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)
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: