WEATHER PREPAREDNESS

Solar SuperStorm 1859 ‘Carrington Event’ – In the Blink of an Eye

richard-carrington-sunspot-1859
Royal Astronomical Society / Richard Carrington via NASA

The Solar SuperStorm of 1859. The Carrington Event. It happened during September 1–2, 1859 and was the largest geomagnetic storm ever recorded.

It could all happen again… in the blink of an eye…


 

During the Thursday morning of September 1, 1859, Richard Carrington, a 33 year old amateur astronomer from England, first observed sunspot activity that would later lead to the monumental eruption. The observations were seen using his solar telescope which projected an 11 inch diameter image on to a surface where he would sketch the large group of sunspots.

During his observations that morning he suddenly witnessed two brilliant spots of light forming within the sunspot group which rapidly grew in size, twice as bright as the sun itself. Within 5 minutes the mega flare had peaked in size and intensity, reduced back to pinpoints of light, and vanished.

 
Early the following morning, much of the world was witnessing a massive and tremendously bright display of the aurora, even at latitudes in the tropics! During the same time, telegraph systems all over Europe and North America failed while spraying out sparks from telegraph poles and igniting widespread fires.

The telegraph system was the only high technology of that day, archaic by today’s standards, and it was brought down by an invisible force from the sun.

 
united-states-electrical-power-grid

Today, the problem begins with the vulnerability of our electric power grid, the essential conduit carrying the life blood of nearly all services and infrastructure that our modern society depends upon.

The way in which the grid is built in the United States (similarly elsewhere), power lines stretched out overhead at distances spanning and crisscrossing nearly 200,000 miles, it acts as a giant vulnerable antenna which would easily pick up the electrical currents induced by a geomagnetic solar storm.

Leading to widespread catastrophic problems, a solar super-storm today would induce electrical currents which surge, melt, and destroy the copper windings of transformers… the essential interconnecting links distributed all over the grid. The utility companies have interconnected their grids together, enabling long distance distribution and control of supply and demand, increasing the risks of chain reaction failure.

 
transformer-meltdown-1989-quebec-solar-storm

The most notable recent geomagnetic power outage took place during March 1989 when a major solar storm plunged millions of people into darkness in Quebec, Canada as their power grid system failed. To put it in context, this same solar geomagnetic storm was just fractionally as powerful as the SuperStorm of 1859.

 

united-states-power-grid-ehv-transformers
EHV transformers, at-risk capacity

 
At high risk today is the interconnected network of EHV transformers (Extra-High-Voltage, 345,000 volts and above) spread around the grid, which if damaged, would literally take years to replace due to their highly specialized manufacture (mostly manufactured in India and China). To order a single replacement EHV transformer today, takes 1 or more years to delivery. After a grid meltdown, delivery times, if at all, would be extraordinary…

ehv-transformer

 
The consequences of such a dire circumstance need not be spelled out here. Leave it to your own imagination and consider the ramifications of hundreds of millions of people trying to survive without electricity. The world would be changed forever…

…in the blink of an eye.

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16 Comments

  1. Wouldn’t another Carrington event set our houses and businesses on fire? With all of the wiring in the buildings? I know nothing about electricity, and it makes me nervous to hear that the first time around it set fires with the telegraph lines…

    1. There is the remote potential that some of the electrical implements in your house may catch fire – particularly those with motors in them – AC units or washing machines etc.

      A massive solar flare event would cause such chaos your house catching fire maybe the least of the problems.

    2. I believe that in the case of a Carrington-class event, transformers along the electrical grid may burn their windings and perhaps catch fire. Buildings with direct connectivity to grids may be at risk of fire. Though circuit-breakers may help mitigate some of this.

      The high currents that will fry transformers along the power grid will be induced in the thousands of miles of power lines suspended above our streets, acting as giant antennas to the CME.

      The problem today would be the extreme issue with replacing so many transformers (especially the EHV transformers), all the while without power and the inability to manufacture with the same machines that require power…

      Modern civilization DEPENDS upon electricity, and unfortunately most will not survive long without it due to system inter-dependencies.

      1. Reports during the events around the continued transmittition of electricity after being disconnected.

  2. @ Illinoisian: 3 things are needed to conduct electricity: a conductor (metal wire copper is best), a magnetic field (energy source, solar flare) and relative motion (the solar flare moving across the earth). Lots of things burning up all over the affected area, inside & out and most electronics rendered un-useable because of damage or damage to something they need to work.

    1. Absolutely! There were reports of lines continuing to transmit power after being disconnected. Coins in pockets had to emptied in some cases as they were to hot not to.

  3. I once read in one of NASA’s online articles something that I believe to be fundamentally true: “Electric power is modern society’s cornerstone technology on which virtually all other infrastructures and services depend.”

    While there are many other important things to human life, like water, our technology advances have made our way of life depend totally on electricity, in a way it’s virtually irreplaceable. However, it’s something we take for granted, and don’t understand how costly is it’s production for the planet resources and for the financial ones as well, what it takes to actually produce such immaterial power nature scatters around at will in a much higher level – lightning.

    It seems we also can’t see how fragile is the world we have built, how little we are before nature’s power. In the same way, the power lines are vulnerable not only to earthly incidents like earthquakes and hurricanes, but to something even more powerful like a solar storm, which besides being a very severe threat, is invisible and might turn our world upside down if we have not the means to detect it in time.

    It’s worth reading: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2009/21jan_severespaceweather/

    1. Very well, put, except the use of One Word! “Detect” That alone will only allow you save yourself for a Short Time, if you can get out of all buildings, vehicles, and far away from any Overhead wire! I was just thinking, of all the Metal in my mouth….I’m a goner, no matter what!

  4. Well, folks. It going to be sooner or later that this happens.Goverment(s) have tested EMP for years in the Gulf of Mexico. (I remember restricted zones due to this testing and it was announced in the Times Picayune news paper. We don’t have it on the consumer side. You decide if your ready for a social collapse. Remember three weeks in Miami with no lights, electricty or services in 1995. I DO. It can happen.

    Jim

    1. Jim you are so spot on…..remember there was still automobiles etc and backups were still working now imagine a complete and total shutdown of nearly all electrical “things” a few old automobiles/trucks but nothing else. Maybe even hardened military equipment might be kaput. You want to see the vermin two and four legged take over….it would be like the book, “One Second After”.
      OMG

  5. End of the world as we know it & off to FEMA camps for most city dwellers for sure, and it’s just a solar flare away—PLUS don’t forgot the weakening magnetosphere won’t protect us as much.

  6. OK so we have a 20 hours to prepare. Disconnect or brake apart the grid during the strike would lessen the damage. I’m going to pull my meter and make sure the ground wire is good. Where can I find a faraday cage for the garage?

  7. Another thing possible is if there are more than one cme hitting back to back. The earth’s magnetic field is driven closer to the earth. If not able to bounce back to origional position it can strip the field off the sun side of the earth. Exposing the land to full on radiation and plasma from the sun. Not a good prospect.
    It may have happened before and could have endend past civilizations. Hence the vast vitrificaton of stone and landscape across huge area.
    More plausable than an ancient nuclear war or asteroid strikes that would have sterilized the whole planet to create that amount of surface area vitrified.
    Seems also more and more single stars like ours are found to have repeating micro- nova events.

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