Worst solar storm of the century DESTROYED power grids; Know if it can strike us again in 2023

In 1989, a solar storm struck the Earth that was so powerful that it caused a 9-hour-long power outage and sparked a massive radio blackout. Know all about it.

| Updated on: May 30 2023, 11:34 IST
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Can we witness another terrifying event like the 1989 solar storm that destroyed Canadian power grids? Find out. (Pixabay)

The Carrington event is the most intense solar storm event in our recorded history, but it occurred 164 years ago in 1859, and back then, humans had rudimentary communications technology, but even then it sparked fires to break out spontaneously and the operators suffered electric shocks. But one does not need to go that far to realize the terrifying potential of solar storms. 34 years ago, the Earth witnessed the worst solar storm of the century and it was so powerful that it knocked out power grids in Canada. Not only that, but it also caused short-wave radio blackouts that impacted the operations of a UN peacekeeping force in Namibia. Check out the details.

The worst solar storm of the century

On March 13, 1989, the Earth witnessed a solar storm so strong that it perplexed even the most seasoned astronomer. Although we do not have an accurate measure of the storm's intensity since the Kp index was not functional, the Disturbance storm time index (Dst index) recorded a reading of 500.

However, one did not need any instruments to understand the severity of the solar storm. As soon as it struck, the northern skies were filled with aurora, which went as far down as Mexico. The southern polar region also got its own aurora that covered Australia and was seen as far up as South America. So, in a way, almost the entire Earth was encapsulated by aurora lights.

However, that was not the worst part about the storm. The Hydro-Québec power network in Canada collapsed due to the strong geomagnetically induced currents. This event led to a power outage that lasted more than 9 hours and affected over 6 million people.

Further, widespread communication blackout was also detected. Radio networks were jammed all across Europe but the worst affected was the military dispatched to Namibia by the UN which was there for a peacekeeping operation.

Even satellites suffered significant damage. NOAA's GOES weather satellite communications were interrupted, causing weather images to be lost. NASA's TDRS-1 communication satellite recorded over 250 anomalies due to the increased particles flowing into its sensitive electronics. The Space Shuttle Discovery suffered a sensor malfunction.

Can a similar storm strike the Earth in 2023?

The scary thing about solar storms is that our technology is not capable of predicting them. The Sun continuously bombards powerful coronal mass ejections (CME) and it is only a matter of time before one of them hits the Earth and sparks a similar storm.

However, in 2023, the risk of such a storm is definitely higher. The Earth has been reported to enter the peak of its solar cycle by the first half of the next year. This means that solar activity is at an all-time high. This will create more frequent and more destructive solar storms. For now, it is simply a waiting game.

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First Published Date: 30 May, 10:30 IST
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