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Carrington Event

At 11:18 AM on a cloudless Thursday morning, September 1, 1859, two brilliant beads of blinding white light appeared on the surface of the sun overlaying the normal sunspots. They intensified rapidly, and started fading less than 60 seconds later. The white spots contracted to mere pinpoints and then disappeared. It ended at 11:23 AM. The whole event lasted only five minutes.


Ultraviolet photo of a solar flare

Just before dawn the next day, skies all over planet Earth erupted in red, green, and purple auroras so brilliant that newspapers could be read as easily as in daylight. Electrifying transmission cables, setting fires in telegraph offices, and producing Northern Lights so bright that people could read newspapers by their red and green glow. Indeed, stunning auroras pulsated even at near tropical latitudes over Hawaii, the Bahamas, Jamaica, El Salvador, and Cuba.

Even more disconcerting, telegraph systems worldwide went haywire. Spark discharges shocked telegraph operators and set the telegraph paper on fire. Even when telegraphers disconnected the batteries powering the lines, aurora-induced electric currents in the wires still allowed messages to be transmitted.

This phenomena, a magnetic explosion on the sun, is known as the Carrington Event. The 1859 storm is named after astronomer Richard Carrington who witnessed the instigating solar flare. Now we know that solar flares happen frequently, in the last 160 years, nobody’s spotted one bigger than Carrington did on that day.

Scientists have warned that a really big solar eruption could destroy satellites and wreck power and communications grids around the globe if it happened today.  A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences found that if a similar storm occurred today, it could cause $1 to 2 trillion in damages to society’s high-tech infrastructure alone, and require four to ten years for complete recovery.  Hurricane Katrina caused “only” $80-125 billion in damage by comparison.


Coronal mass ejection as viewed by the Solar Dynamics Observatory on June 7, 2011.

There could be scientific evidence to support the Mayan predictions of 2,500 years ago regarding a profound change in the planet and man. NASA recently warned that Britain could face widespread power blackouts and be left without critical communication signals for long periods of time, after the earth is hit by a once-in-a-generation “space storm”.

The Mayans believed that a major celestial occurrence was in the offing sometime around 12.21.12.  In June of 2010, senior space agency scientists indicated they believed the Earth will be hit with unprecedented levels of magnetic energy from solar flares after the Sun wakes “from a deep slumber of inactivity” sometime in early 2013.