Solar storm of 1859

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Sunspots of September 1, 1859, as sketched by Richard Carrington. A and B mark the initial positions of an intensely bright event, which moved over the course of five minutes to C and D before disappearing.

The solar storm of 1859, also known as the Carrington event,[1] was a powerful geomagnetic solar storm in 1859 during solar cycle 10. A solar coronal mass ejection hit Earth's magnetosphere and induced one of the largest geomagnetic storms on record. The associated "white light flare" in the solar photosphere was observed and recorded by English astronomers Richard C. Carrington and Richard Hodgson.

Studies have shown that a solar storm of this magnitude occurring today would likely cause widespread problems for modern civilization.[2] The solar storm of 2012 was of similar magnitude, but it passed Earth's orbit without striking the planet.[3]

Carrington super flare[edit]

From August 28 to September 2, 1859, numerous sunspots were observed on the Sun. On August 29, southern aurorae were observed as far north as Queensland, Australia.[4] Just before noon on September 1, the English amateur astronomers Richard Carrington and Richard Hodgson independently made the first observations of a solar flare.[5] The flare was associated with a major coronal mass ejection (CME) that travelled directly toward Earth, taking 17.6 hours to make the 150 million kilometre (93 million mile) journey. It is believed that the relatively high speed of this CME (typical CMEs take several days to arrive at Earth) was made possible by a prior CME, perhaps the cause of the large aurora event on August 29, that "cleared the way" of ambient solar wind plasma for the Carrington event.[5]

Because of a simultaneous "crochet" observed in the Kew Observatory magnetometer record by Scottish physicist Balfour Stewart and a geomagnetic storm observed the following day, Carrington suspected a solar-terrestrial connection. Worldwide reports on the effects of the geomagnetic storm of 1859 were compiled and published by American mathematician Elias Loomis, which support the observations of Carrington and Stewart.

On September 1–2, 1859, one of the largest recorded geomagnetic storms (as recorded by ground-based magnetometers) occurred. Aurorae were seen around the world, those in the northern hemisphere as far south as the Caribbean; those over the Rocky Mountains in the US were so bright that their glow awoke gold miners, who began preparing breakfast because they thought it was morning.[5] People in the northeastern US could read a newspaper by the aurora's light.[6] The aurora was visible as far from the poles as Sub-Saharan Africa (Senegal, Mauritania, perhaps Monrovia, Liberia), Monterrey and Tampico in Mexico, Queensland, Cuba and Hawaii.[7] Aurorae were visible at sea level at the latitudes of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea and Dakar, Senegal; in theory, at least, observers in the equatorial regions, particularly at higher elevations, may have been able to see the aurora borealis and aurora australis simultaneously. A story about this (the location usually given as the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro and/or well up into the Andes) which has circulated for years probably refers to either this or the January 25-26, 1938 aurora.[8] The latter storm by most measures was not as strong as that of the Carrington event in 1859, but the colour, shape, and persistent intensity of the 1938 aurorae (blood red over Europe and North America as well as the Southern Hemisphere) have led to the 1938 event being as well known or better known than that in 1859.[8]

Telegraph systems all over Europe and North America failed, in some cases giving telegraph operators electric shocks.[9] Telegraph pylons threw sparks.[10] Some telegraph operators could continue to send and receive messages despite having disconnected their power supplies.[11]

On Saturday, September 3, 1859, the Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser reported, "Those who happened to be out late on Thursday night had an opportunity of witnessing another magnificent display of the auroral lights. The phenomenon was very similar to the display on Sunday night, though at times the light was, if possible, more brilliant, and the prismatic hues more varied and gorgeous. The light appeared to cover the whole firmament, apparently like a luminous cloud, through which the stars of the larger magnitude indistinctly shone. The light was greater than that of the moon at its full, but had an indescribable softness and delicacy that seemed to envelop everything upon which it rested. Between 12 and 1 o'clock, when the display was at its full brilliancy, the quiet streets of the city resting under this strange light, presented a beautiful as well as singular appearance."[12]

In June 2013, a joint venture from researchers at Lloyd's of London and Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER) in the United States used data from the Carrington Event to estimate the current cost of a similar event to the US alone at $0.6–2.6 trillion.[2]

Similar events[edit]

Ice cores containing thin nitrate-rich layers have been analysed to reconstruct a history of past solar storms predating reliable observations. Data from Greenland ice cores, gathered by space scientist Kenneth G. McCracken[13] and others, show evidence that events of this magnitude—as measured by high-energy proton radiation, not geomagnetic effect—occur approximately once per 500 years, with events at least one-fifth as large occurring several times per century.[14] More recent work by the ice core community shows that nitrate spikes are not a result of solar energetic particle events, so use of this technique is in doubt. Beryllium-10 and carbon-14 levels are considered to be more reliable indicators by the ice core community.[15] These similar but much more extreme cosmic ray events may originate outside the solar system and even outside the galaxy. Less severe storms have occurred in 1921 and 1960, when widespread radio disruption was reported. The March 1989 geomagnetic storm knocked out power across large sections of Quebec. On July 23, 2012 a "Carrington-class" Solar Superstorm (Solar flare, Coronal mass ejection, Solar EMP) was observed; its trajectory missed Earth in orbit. Information about these observations was first shared publicly by NASA on April 28, 2014.[3][16]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Philips, Tony (January 21, 2009). "Severe Space Weather--Social and Economic Impacts". NASA Science: Science News (science.nasa.gov). Retrieved February 16, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Solar Storm Risk to the North American Electric Grid Lloyd's 2013
  3. ^ a b Phillips, Dr. Tony (July 23, 2014). "Near Miss: The Solar Superstorm of July 2012". NASA. Retrieved July 26, 2014. 
  4. ^ "SOUTHERN AURORA.". The Moreton Bay Courier (Brisbane: National Library of Australia). September 7, 1859. p. 2. Retrieved May 17, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c Odenwald, Sten F.; Green, James L. (July 28, 2008). "Bracing the Satellite Infrastructure for a Solar Superstorm". Scientific American. Retrieved February 16, 2011. 
  6. ^ Richard A. Lovett (March 2, 2011). "What If the Biggest Solar Storm on Record Happened Today?". National Geographic News. Retrieved September 5, 2011. 
  7. ^ "Monster radiation burst from Sun". BBC News. May 14, 2013. Retrieved May 15, 2013. 
  8. ^ a b Space Weather: January 25, 1938 The Fatima Storm
  9. ^ Committee on the Societal and Economic Impacts of Severe Space Weather Events: A Workshop, National Research Council (2008). Severe Space Weather Events--Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report. National Academies Press. p. 13. ISBN 0-309-12769-6. 
  10. ^ Odenwald, Sten F. (2002). The 23rd Cycle. Columbia University Press. p. 28. ISBN 0-231-12079-6. 
  11. ^ Carlowicz, Michael J.; Lopez, Ramon E. (2002). Storms from the Sun: The Emerging Science of Space Weather. National Academies Press. p. 58. ISBN 0-309-07642-0. 
  12. ^ "The Aurora Borealis". Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser. September 3, 1859. p. 2; Column 2. Retrieved February 16, 2011. 
  13. ^ "How do you determine the effects of a solar flare that took place 150 years ago?" (PDF). Stuart Clarks Universe. Retrieved May 23, 2012. 
  14. ^ McCracken, K. G.; Dreschhoff, G. A. M.; Zeller, E. J.; Smart, D. F.; Shea, M. A. (2001). "Solar cosmic ray events for the period 1561–1994 1. Identification in polar ice, 1561–1950". Journal of Geophysical Research 106 (A10): 21,585–21,598. Bibcode:2001JGR...10621585M. doi:10.1029/2000JA000237.  Closed access
  15. ^ Wolff, E. W.; Bigler, M.; Curran, M. A. J.; Dibb, J.; Frey, M. M.; Legrand, M. (2012). "The Carrington event not observed in most ice core nitrate records". Geophysical Research Letters 39 (8): 21,585–21,598. Bibcode:2012GeoRL..39.8503W. doi:10.1029/2012GL051603. Closed access
  16. ^ "Video (04:03) – Carrington-class coronal mass ejection narrowly misses Earth". NASA. April 28, 2014. Retrieved July 26, 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

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