Wrath of solar storm! NASA reveals the horror of the day the Sun brought darkness to Earth

The Quebec blackout was one of the most terrifying acts of the Sun. NASA explains how an intense solar storm strike on Earth can destroy power grids and send humanity back to Stone Age tech.

| Updated on: Aug 22 2022, 11:55 IST
Solar prominence
NASA: One of the most dangerous solar storm incidents on Earth, the Quebec blackout displayed a side of the Sun which was previously unimaginable to us. (NASA)
Solar prominence
NASA: One of the most dangerous solar storm incidents on Earth, the Quebec blackout displayed a side of the Sun which was previously unimaginable to us. (NASA)

It is incredible to think that the same solar storm which causes beautiful auroras in the sky can also cause widespread damage and destruction on Earth. But history is filled with examples when the Sun exploded in fury and sent storms so intense that entire Earth suffered. NASA has revealed an incident that took place on March 13, 1989. The incident, today commonly known as the Quebec blackout showed how destructive a solar storm can be. The entire 1.6 million square kilometers wide province suffered an electrical power blackout. But unlike other power outages, this one was caused by a solar storm. How? Read on to find out.

On March 10, 1989, astronomers noticed a powerful explosion or a solar flare on the Sun. Narrating the incident in a post, NASA said, “Within minutes, tangled magnetic forces on the sun had released a billion-ton cloud of gas. 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. The solar flare that accompanied the outburst immediately caused short-wave radio interference, including the jamming of radio signals from Radio Free Europe into Russia. It was thought that the signals had been jammed by the Kremlin, but it was only the sun acting up!”

Quebec blackout: When a solar storm destroyed power grid

The vast cloud of solar plasma finally hit Earth on March 12 as a solar storm and caused spectacular auroras that were visible as far south as Cuba. But the solar storm did not only bring a beautiful light show but also destruction. Its intense magnetic fields collided with the Earth and created huge electromagnetic disturbance. The NASA post reveals the details of the event. “The solar storm created electrical currents in the ground beneath much of North America. Just after 2:44 a.m. on March 13, the currents found a weakness in the electrical power grid of Quebec. In less than 2 minutes, the entire Quebec power grid lost power. During the 12-hour blackout that followed, millions of people suddenly found themselves in dark office buildings and underground pedestrian tunnels, and in stalled elevators. Most people woke up to cold homes for breakfast. The blackout also closed schools and businesses, kept the Montreal Metro shut during the morning rush hour, and closed Dorval Airport.”

The province of Quebec is the largest province in Canada. For reference, area-wise, Quebec is as large as one-third of India. And this solar storm brought this entire area to a halt for more than a 12 hour period. The effect of it was not limited to Quebec either. New York Power lost 150 megawatts the moment the Quebec power grid went down due to various power grids failing. Across the US, over 200 power grid problems erupted within minutes of the start of the solar storm.

Today, the Quebec blackout serves as a reminder of what a solar storm is capable of. Before this, nobody thought that solar storms could affect us on the ground this much even though the Carrington event of a much earlier time did provide an example. With the rising incidents of solar storms in coming days, a similar fate could again come our way and we should be prepared for it. According to most experts, humanity is not prepared for this eventuality.

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First Published Date: 28 Apr, 19:13 IST
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