Has NASA warned of a looming internet apocalypse and launched a mission to prevent it?

By June 27, 2023 June 30th, 2023 Crisis and Disaster, Science

We came across this viral claim on different social media platforms over the past few days.Multiple posts with this image are circulating – with limited elaboration beyond mentioning the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) and an “internet apocalypse” that will bring a potential months-long halt of internet access. Some articles further mention NASA launching a “mission” to prevent the above outcome.The term “internet apocalypse” was first mentioned in 2021 – coined by a researcher who published a paper about solar storms. The paper focuses on the potential ramifications of a large solar storm on global connectivity, economy, and long-term infrastructure; advocating for early countermeasures and plans to prevent huge losses and damages.Solar storms are expulsions of plasma and magnetic field from the Sun’s outer atmosphere. Subject to solar winds and a plethora of other factors (many still unknown to us), these solar storms can sometimes enter Earth’s atmosphere. The last major solar storm disturbance was in 1859 – before the existence of the Internet, interconnected deep-sea cables, and electrical grids – leaving us uncertain about how exactly our current infrastructure might be impacted.

While news outlets picked up on the term “internet apocalypse” in 2021, it was not used frequently again until recently after a paper on results from the NASA Parker Solar Probe (PSP) was published in early June 2023 and subsequently reported on by Forbes. Elements of this paper are the original source of these new claims.

The Parker Solar Probe (launched in 2018 to research space weather near the sun) has had recent close encounters with solar winds, allowing a better understanding of their structure and patterns. The eventual aim of the probe is to understand patterns that might cause solar storms, allowing better prediction and anticipation for when (or if) a serious storm occurs. Significantly, this mission will not be able to “prevent” an internet apocalypse and was not launched with that intention.

While the possibility of a serious solar storm does continue to exist, no new alarms have been raised about an immediate threat – nor has NASA released any warnings about it.

Although certain elements are true, the currently circulating claims are inaccurate, lack context, and have caused unnecessary panic. We therefore give the claim that NASA has issued a warning of a looming Internet Apocalypse and launched a mission to prevent it a rating of False.

The article that first blew this story up and reintroduced the “Internet Apocalypse” headline is by The Mirror. While the article itself goes into detail about the PSP, its headline nevertheless sparked more articles and posts that strayed even further from the original source material.

This is an example of how headline-driven reporting can contribute to the spread of misinformation, particularly in a media landscape where instant, eye-catching news and gaining the most clicks or views has immense currency.

Leave a Reply