Solar storm havoc: 3 times Earth was hit and damage it caused

That a solar storm, generated by our Sun, is dangerous is quite apparent from the destruction it has actually caused here on Earth on a number of occasions..

| Updated on: Aug 21 2022, 21:02 IST
Solar Storm
A solar storm poses a significant threat to the electrical and electronic infrastructure on Earth even though the Sun is so far away. (NASA)
Solar Storm
A solar storm poses a significant threat to the electrical and electronic infrastructure on Earth even though the Sun is so far away. (NASA)

Solar storm is a stellar event that has a massive destructive potential. While the atmosphere here on Earth protects humans from its destructive powers, there is very little protection for the technology that has been created and on which virtually every human being is dependent, one way or the other. This includes not just telecommunications, but even medical aid, not to mention businesses. Needless to say, the collapse of technology that a solar storm can cause can lead to massive loss of life as well as immense monetary loss. While most solar storms are dealt with by our atmosphere, protecting technology from the destructive powers of our Sun is still at the nascent stage and that can be a big problem for humans.

Solar storms are caused by the Sun at its most active and it has various avatars. Solar flares, coronal mass ejections, high-speed solar wind, and solar energy particles are all forms of this solar activity. These are associated with sunspots, the extremely bright areas of the Sun that are observed during this intense period of activity. The Sun passes through an 11-year period of activity during which it is at its most active. In the active period it can shoot out solar plasma (a gas of electrically charged particles) that can impact technology.

Also read: Looking for a smartphone? Check Mobile Finder here.

So, how bad can a solar storm really get? Here we list 3 of the worst solar storms that have hit Earth and the damage they caused.

The Carrington Event of 1859. It is widely believed to be the strongest solar storm ever generated. What was initially observed by Richard Carrington, after whom the event has been named, was the formation of various sunspots on August 28, 1859. These sunspots rose above the Sun and impacted the magnetic field that caused a massive Coronal Mass Ejection. Some have said it may have spawned not just one, but 2 CMEs. Carrington himself described it as a “white light flare” eruption from the Sun.

The solar storm hit Earth on September 1-2, 1859. It was so powerful that it knocked out the Telegraph and electricity infrastructure in Europe and the US. In fact, people were shocked to see electrical discharges emanating from the wires and equipment all on their own volition and operators even got electrical shocks! In other places it started fires.

The solar storm had another, albeit much more pleasing effect on Earth - it generated tremendous auroras on the Earth's poles. These were so massive that they could be seen as far as the US, Japan, China, and Australia. In places, the aurora was so bright that people could read by its light.

This particular CME was so violent that it reached Earth much faster than such an event is expected to. It travelled the 150 million km distance between the Sun and Earth in just 17.6 hours even though it should have taken it days. It is being surmised that the reason behind this swift movement could possibly have been another smaller CME explosion that occurred days earlier and it could have cleared the path of all impediments for the ones that followed.

The Great Geomagnetic Storm of 1921: It was caused by a sunspot just when the declining cycle period of solar activity was about to start. Multiple explosions on the Sun sent CMEs shooting directly at the Earth. It caused a telegraph exchange in Sweden to burst into flames. The same thing happened in New York, US. The damage was so extensive that whole buildings were burned down.

The reason behind it was the surge of extremely strong electrical current in the telephone and telegraph lines caused by the solar storm's geomagnetic activity. Similar damage was also reported from other European countries including the UK and France as well as in Japan and Australia.

The intensity of the storm was comparable to the Carrington Event. In fact, the Carrington event is widely believed to be the strongest solar storm ever recorded. However, it may well have to share the limelight with the storm of 1921.

The 1989 Canadian solar storm: In recent times when documentation of stellar events was getting much more professional, the event that got everyone's attention was the collapse of the Hydro-Quebec power network on March 13, 1989. The geomagnetic storm causing this event was itself the result of a CME ejected from the sun on March 9, 1989, NASA said. The storm caused transformer failure on a huge scale leading to electricity grid failure across the province of Quebec that lasted for half the day.

The first inkling for astronomers came on Friday March 10, 1989, when they noticed a massive explosion on the surface of the Sun. "It was like the energy of thousands of nuclear bombs exploding at the same time. The storm cloud rushed out from the sun, straight towards Earth, at a million miles an hour," NASA said in its report.

It struck Earth on March 12. It created electrical currents in the ground that impacted the power grid of Quebec severely causing the blackout that affected millions of people. It caused schools, businesses, Montreal Metro to remain shut the next morning.

And yes, it also created spectacular 'northern lights' that could be seen as far as Florida and Cuba.

Follow HT Tech for the latest tech news and reviews , also keep up with us on Twitter, Facebook, Google News, and Instagram. For our latest videos, subscribe to our YouTube channel.

First Published Date: 10 Oct, 16:55 IST
keep up with tech