The greatest solar storm that affected the Earth occurred on September 1, 1859. Astronomer Richard Carrington had his observatory on the outskirts of London and observed what he described as “two intensely bright and black patches of light”.
Unknowingly he had witnessed the largest solar flare ever recorded. It lasted for five minutes, but in a matter of hours its impact would be felt all over the planet.
A day later, the crew of the “Southern Cross” boat, a 170-foot, three-masted speedboat that faced an important storm off the coast of Chile, thought they were sailing over an ocean of blood. When they looked up they saw that the whole sky was bathed in red.
It was an austral aurora, a phenomenon not frequent in the latitude where the ship was. In addition, the phenomenon caused the failure of telegraph systems throughout Europe and North America. There were intense light flares, from Maine to Florida. Even in Cuba, the ship captains recorded the appearance of coppery lights near the zenith in their logbooks.
If the event did not have disastrous consequences, it was because the technology back then was still taking its first steps. If a magnetic storm of that size were to occur today, artificial satellites would stop working, radio communications would be interrupted, power blackouts would be of continental proportions and services would be interrupted for weeks. This event became known as the “Carrington Event”.
Other solar storms
In 1921, a solar flare damaged Mississippi’s telegraph network, and the New England Central Railway Station was destroyed by fire.
In 1942, a storm caused radar interruptions during the Second World War.
In 1972, a solar blast interrupted telephone communications, which motivated AT&T company to redesign its power system.
In 1989 a solar flare caused a blackout in Quebec, Canada, which left 6 million people without electricity for 9 hours, and the burning of transformers in New Jersey was recorded.
In 2000, the Bastille event occurred, a geomagnetic storm that caused short circuits in some satellites and interruptions in radio communications.
In 2003 the “Halloween Storm”, a series of solar bursts and coronal mass ejections caused interruptions in telecommunications, aurora borealis was observed in southern Texas and Mediterranean countries, combining with blackouts in Sweden. Alerts were issued to aviation companies to avoid flying at high latitudes.
In 2006 a solar burst interrupted satellite communications and GPS navigation signals for 10 minutes. The intense gust damaged the GOES 13 satellite that observed the sun in X-rays.