The Unexplained: Will it be the day the earth stands still?

Powerful solar explosions erupt on the sun. Photograph: NASA.gov

The solar storms struck Earth on September 1 and 2 of 1859 and interrupted what electrical technologies that were prevalent at the time.

Something happened in 1859 that was Earth-altering.  It happened at the very center of our solar system—and it could happen again.  It was a mysterious event that had contained another mystery.

On August 28th of that year, sunspots formed on the sun.  These spots jumbled the magnetic field on the solar surface and solar flares were seen through a telescope on Earth.  British astronomer, Richard Carrington tracked two of the main spots and drew a diagram.

The flares erupted into a coronal mass ejection—CME—that spawned solar storms headed toward Earth.  They struck Earth on September 1 and 2 of 1859 and interrupted what electrical technologies that were prevalent at the time—mainly telegraph services.

Sara Marie Hogg

Here is the strange internal mystery.  The solar disturbance took only 17.6 hours to arrive on Earth.  How could that be?  It is a known fact that it takes days for a CME to travel the distance from Sun to Earth.

The scientific minds put on their thinking caps and decided that a lesser, but similar disturbance had traveled the same path in August.  This earlier disturbance literally blazed the trail for the larger disturbance.  This larger disturbance did not have to face the resistance of solar wind plasma because a path had already been carved through it.

Richard Carrington and Richard Hodgson were able to connect the relationship between solar activity and geomagnetic disturbances on Earth.  Carrington and Hodgson were the earliest known observers of solar flares through telescopes.

As Carrington had observed, the sunspot region, he saw a white light flare in the exact areas that he had been sketching.  What happened on Earth when it impacted 17.6 hours later?

Telegraph systems across North America and Europe failed to work.  In some places, the lines sparked and caused fires—and in some locations, frustrated telegraph operators received electrical shocks.

Bright auroras happened at various spots on the globe.  Birds started chirping and gold miners and others jumped out of their bunks and started cooking breakfast.  Other people who happened to be awake were able to read printed material in the middle of the night—the midnight light was so bright on earth.

The massive solar flare had the energy of ten billion atomic bombs.

What would happen if such a geomagnetic event happened now, in this day and time?  Most of us have heard some of the scary rumors.  There was an event on Valentine’s Day, 2011. that gave us a preview.  It interfered with the GPS signals for aircraft and radio communications.  According to National Geographic, this was a modest event.

Will we ever be ready for an event the magnitude of the 1859 incident?

Monetarily, a Carrington-magnitude event today would cause between $0.6 and $2.6 trillion in damage just to the United States.  It would cause global electrical disruptions—even total blackouts and damage to electrical grids.  It could even take over a week for electricity to be restored to normal in hart-hit regions.  Electronic payments could not be made online or to stores, gas stations, and elsewhere.

Television signals, satellite networks, and radio communications would be disrupted.  Any aircraft in flight would be in big trouble.  Electric vehicles could not be charged.  Any astronauts would be subject to radiation exposure.

We have one advantage over those experiencing the 1859 event.  We have the world’s heliophysics fleet of spacecraft that keep a constant watch on the sun.

What could we do with any CME warnings the fleet could provide us here on Earth?

That is another big question.  Let’s hope most of us have made some preparations for loss of power and transportation and that it would cover the time span needed.

Please click HERE to find Quite Curious, Sara Marie Hogg’s collection of stories that are mysterious, bizarre, and often can’t be explained.

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