On August 28, 1859, the Carrington event began with a massive ejection of a solar coronal mass that struck the Earth’s magnetosphere and caused the most powerful geomagnetic storm in history. They called it a solar superstorm.
Solar activity, with numerous spots and eruptions, begins on August 28 and continues until September 2. On September 1, shortly after noon, British astronomer Richard Carrington observed the largest protuberance, which caused a massive ejection of mass from the Sun’s corona. It heads to Earth and arrives in just 18 hours (normally 2-3 days), causing the strongest geomagnetic storm ever observed, with a total power equivalent to ten hydrogen bombs. This phenomenon was later called the Carrington Event, also known as the Solar Superstorm.
During the superstorm, the Earth is literally electrified – in many countries the telegraph stops – there are electric shocks, the telegraph poles throw sparks. Some telegraph operators continue to send and receive messages for up to a minute and a half, even though they are unplugged.
Auroras are observed all over the world, even over the Caribbean. For example, in the Rocky Mountains (in the Cordillera mountain range, on the west coast of America), the sky glows so bright that gold diggers wake up and start making breakfast, thinking it’s morning.
People in the northeastern United States could read a newspaper in the light of the Northern Lights. The radiance has been seen very far from the poles in places such as sub-Saharan Africa (Senegal, Mauritania, even Monrovia, Liberia), Monterey and Tampico in Mexico, Queensland, Cuba, Hawaii, and even from latitudes near the equator such as Colombia.
If such a solar superstorm happens now, the consequences will be much more catastrophic – global electronic systems, from GPS to payment systems, will collapse, there will be countless problems with electricity supply, not to mention mobile connections and the Internet. Fortunately, by the time the storm hits Earth, there will be several hours to prepare people and minimize damage.
Scientists have found that events of this intensity occur on average about once every 500 years. The strongest storm since the beginning of the space age (since 1957) occurred on March 13, 1989, with an intensity about 3 times weaker than the Carrington event.