In 1859, the world witnessed the most destructive solar storm ever known as the Carrington event. But could another similarly intense solar event happen soon? To invent.
Solar storms as a cosmic nuisance have been present since the creation of the sun itself. But most of these are mild to moderate in nature and do not affect us much. Earth regularly experiences shortwave radio outages, GPS glitches and even minor satellite damage, but that has more or less been the limit of its powers in recent years. However, solar storms are capable of extreme levels of destruction. History tells us of one such terrifying event that changed our view of how powerful explosions on the sun can be. It happened in 1859 and we know it as the Carrington event. And some experts believe the next Carrington event is not far off.
The Carrington event, taking place between September 1 and 2, 1859, is the worst solar storm in recorded history. It could have been worse, but we have no historical records of it. It was a class G5 solar storm, believed to be caused by coronal mass ejection (CME) particles hitting Earth’s upper atmosphere. Even with limited advancements in technology, the world began to use electronic instruments such as the telegraph. And the telegraph itself became the main victim of this solar storm
The worst solar storm in history
At that time, the greatest human communication system was the telegraph, and the entire world relied on it to receive and transmit information quickly. But when the terrible solar storm hit our planet, the entire global telegraph network went down. It was not just limited to that. The telegraph operators reported receiving electric shocks when touching the instruments, telegraph paper spontaneously caught fire, and some equipment started operating without being connected to a power source. Apart from that, power grid failures were also reported, resulting in outages in many regions.
A solar storm of the same intensity that hits Earth today will result in 100 times the destruction caused in 1859. This is because people today rely much more on wireless communication and electricity. Everything is connected via the internet, GPS and navigation systems and mobile phone networks. If these are removed, most facilities, including the emergency services, will fall apart. And it’s still not the worst that could happen.
“The power grid can be short-circuited. It’s not just a one-time loss — it’s going to take 2 to 10 years to recover, so we could be about 20 years behind when something like that happens,” said Katepalli Sreenivasan, NYU professor of physics, engineering and mathematics. told Wired.
But the question is when can the next Carrington event take place? And the stark reality is that we don’t know. Our technology cannot predict solar storms, but only warns us in advance once an outburst has occurred on the sun. However, Sreenivasan believes there is a 2-3 percent chance that such a strong solar storm will occur in the current Solar Cycle 25, which will peak in 2025.