On September 1, 1859, the sun unleashed one of the most powerful solar storms ever recorded and it happened during the middle of a low solar cycle. The flare was observed and recorded by amateur astronomer Richard C. Carrington shortly after 11AM that day but it was only visible for a matter of minutes. Due to the uniqueness of the flare, scientists are still not sure how it should be categorized. Just seventeen hours later the effects of the solar blast were seen and felt all over the world.
The Effects of the Mega Solar Storm
In the early morning hours the next day, auroras were observed in the skies all over the world. The solar storm was so strong that auroras were observed as far south as Florida, Hawaii, Cuba, and the Bahamas. A Colorado reporter wrote, “On the night of [September 1] we were high up on the Rocky Mountains sleeping in the open air. A little after midnight we were awakened by the auroral light, so bright that one could easily read common print. Some of the party insisted that it was daylight and began the preparation of breakfast.” Ships across the Atlantic reported that their compasses spun erratically making it impossible for them to get their bearings.
Although more troubling was the fact that telegraph systems worldwide experienced surges in electricity. Many telegraph machines were reported to have caught fire and one operator was rendered unconscious when he was shocked by a large bolt of electricity that sprung from his machine. Telegraphers that reportedly disconnected their machines from their batteries were still able to send and receive messages that were powered by the solar storm induced currents flowing through the lines.
Implications of a Mega Solar Storm Today
The Carrington Solar Storm happened at a time when the use of electricity was at its infancy so the damage caused by the storm was minimal. Today, the damage caused by a similar storm would be catastrophic. Government officials and scientists have predicted that a mega solar storm would devastate power grids causing widespread blackouts that could take years to repair. Satellite, GPS, radar, and cellular signals would be disrupted by the solar activity. Experts say that there is no feasible way to protect the 900+ satellites currently in orbit that could be damaged at cost of tens of billions of dollars.
The High Probability of Catastrophic Storm
The risk of such a devastating solar storm has been found to be much greater than previously thought. A study conducted by Pete Riley, senior scientist at Predictive Science, found that there’s a one in eight chance that by 2020 the earth will be impacted by a major solar storm. Individuals should take such a high probability and high impact event seriously and make preparations as outlined on The Smart Preppers.