The Carrington Event – 1859’s “Great Auroral Storm
The solar storm of 1859, also known as the Carrington Event, was a powerful geomagnetic solar storm in 1859 during solar cycle 10. A solar coronal mass ejection hit Earth’s magnetosphere and induced one of the largest geomagnetic storms on record. The associated “white light flare” in the solar photosphere was observed and recorded by English astronomers Richard C. Carrington and Richard Hodgson.
Studies have shown that a solar storm of this magnitude occurring today would likely cause widespread problems for modern civilization. There is an estimated 12% chance of a similar event occurring between 2012 and 2022.
From August 28 through September 2, 1859, numerous sunspots were observed on the Sun. On August 29, southern aurorae were observed as far north as Queensland in Australia. Just before noon on September 1, the English amateur astronomers Richard Carrington and Richard Hodgson independently made the first observations of a solar flare. The flare was associated with a major coronal mass ejection (CME) that travelled directly toward Earth, taking 17.6 hours to make the 93 million mile journey. It is believed that the relatively high speed of this CME (typical CMEs take several days to arrive at Earth) was made possible by a prior CME, perhaps the cause of the large aurora event on August 29, that “cleared the way” of ambient solar wind plasma for the Carrington event.
Because of a simultaneous “crochet” observed in the Kew Observatory magnetometer record by Scottish physicist Balfour Stewart and a geomagnetic storm observed the following day, Carrington suspected a solar-terrestrial connection. Worldwide reports on the effects of the geomagnetic storm of 1859 were compiled and published by Elias Loomis, which support the observations of Carrington and Stewart.
On September 1–2, 1859, one of the largest recorded geomagnetic storms (as recorded by ground-based magnetometers) occurred. Aurorae were seen around the world, those in the northern hemisphere even as far south as the Caribbean; those over the Rocky Mountains were so bright that their glow awoke gold miners, who began preparing breakfast because they thought it was morning. People who happened to be awake in the northeastern US could read a newspaper by the aurora’s light.The aurora was visible as far from the poles as Cuba and Hawaii.
Telegraph systems all over Europe and North America failed, in some cases giving telegraph operators electric shocks.Telegraph pylons threw sparks. Some telegraph systems continued to send and receive messages despite having been disconnected from their power supplies.
On Saturday, September 3, 1859, the Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser reported, “Those who happened to be out late on Thursday night had an opportunity of witnessing another magnificent display of the auroral lights. The phenomenon was very similar to the display on Sunday night, though at times the light was, if possible, more brilliant, and the prismatic hues more varied and gorgeous. The light appeared to cover the whole firmament, apparently like a luminous cloud, through which the stars of the larger magnitude indistinctly shone. The light was greater than that of the moon at its full, but had an indescribable softness and delicacy that seemed to envelop everything upon which it rested. Between 12 and 1 o’clock, when the display was at its full brilliancy, the quiet streets of the city resting under this strange light, presented a beautiful as well as singular appearance.”
In June 2013, a joint venture from researchers at Lloyd’s of London and Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER) in the United States used data from the Carrington Event to estimate the current cost of a similar event to the US alone at $0.6–2.6 trillion.
Below is one example of the historical data contained in the British Geological Survey geomagnetic archives. They have digistised a complete collection of over 250,000 magnetograms which are now available to view online.
Image Links for Download:
August 27 1859
August 30 1859
September 2 1895
September 5 1859
– A growing collection of major space weather events in history. This page contains a brief paragraph of the main effects of each solar storm, and a link to an archive of articles written about each storm that you can find in a variety of newspapers and magazines during the time of the storm. These accounts are a rich source of information about how each storm affected various technologies, and captivated the general public. Currently [August 15 , 2005], the archive includes 306 articles.
Carrington-class CME Narrowly Misses Earth
A Super Solar Flare http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2008/06may_carringtonflare/
Carrington-class CME Narrowly Misses Earth http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2014/02may_superstorm/
Severe Space Weather: Social and Economic Consequences — Science@NASA
Space Weather Events—Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts — the full report may be freely downloaded from the National Academy of Sciences web site
NASA’s Future: US Space Exploration Policy
Description of a Singular Appearance seen in the Sun on September 1, 1859, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 20, p.13-15 — the original report by R.C. Carrington
An engaging book on the history of the 1859 Carrington flare and the detective work to sleuth its cause and significance is Stuart Clark’s The Sun Kings: The Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington and the Take of How Modern Astronomy Began (Princeton University Press, 2007).
One recent analysis on the effects of a potential future solar flare of similar magnitude is “The Carrington event: Possible doses to crews in Space from a comparable event,” by L. W. Townsend et al., Advances in Space Research 38 (2006): 226–231–one of 16 articles in an entire special issue devoted to the 1859 Carrington flare.
See also “The 1859 Solar–Terrestrial Disturbance and the Current Limits of Extreme Space Weather Activity,” by E. W. Cliver and L. Svalgaard, Solar Physics (2004) 224: 407–422 (available at ) and “Forecasting the impact of an 1859-caliber superstorm on geosynchronous Earth-orbiting satellites: Transponder resources,” by Sten F. Odenwald and James L. Green, Space Weather (2007) 5: 1-16.
NASA is well aware of radiation hazards in space and taking mitigation measures. A book-length report on a 2005 workshop exploring the subject is Space Radiation Hazards and the Vision for Space Exploration: Report of a Workshop published by the National Research Council in 2006.
NASA’s Future: US Space Exploration Policy
1859’s “Great Auroral Storm”—the week the Sun touched the earth Accounts of the largest electromagnetic storm ever recorded. http://arstechnica.com/science/2012/05/1859s-great-auroral-stormthe-week-the-sun-touched-the-earth/
Solarstorm of 1859 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_storm_of_1859A
Perfect Solar Superstorm: The 1859 Carrington Event http://www.history.com/news/2012/03/14/a-perfect-solar-superstorm-the-1859-carrington-event/
Richard Carrington http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Carrington
Balfour Stewart http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balfour_StewartCarrington,
R. C. (1859). “Description of a Singular Appearance seen in the Sun on September 1, 1859” http://adsbit.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?bibcode=1859MNRAS..20…13C
“The Largest Magnetic Storm on Record, The “Carrington Event” of August 27 to September 7, 1859″. British Geological Survey (National Environment Research Council). 2011. Retrieved March 28, 2009 http://www.geomag.bgs.ac.uk/education/carrington.html
Eyewitness reports of the great auroral storm of 1859 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0273117706000160
What If the Biggest Solar Storm on Record Happened Today?
Repeat of 1859 Carrington Event would devastate modern world, experts say. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/03/110302-solar-flares-sun-storms-earth-danger-carrington-event-science/
Geomagnetism: Magnetic Observatories UK http://www.geomag.bgs.ac.uk/operations/observatories.html
Explore our spaceweather:
SunAeon – Place of knowledge and discovery. Earth, Sun, Planets, Solar System and cycles in Nature http://www.sunaeon.com/#/solarsystem/
Observing the Sun and anomalies explained: http://www.bookofresearch.com/observing-the-sun.htm
Learn more about the sun and the solar maximum: http://www-istp.gsfc.nasa.gov/istp/outreach/solarmax/learnmain.html
NOAA / Space Weather Prediction Center Space Weather Alerts: http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/alerts/warnings_timeline.html
Solar Radiation Storms http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/NOAAscales/index.html#SolarRadiationStorms
Geomag Real Time Station Display http://geomag.usgs.gov/realtime/
Radio Blackouts http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/NOAAscales/index.html#RadioBlackouts
Latest GOES-15 SXI Image http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/sxi/goes15/latest.html
Solar monitor: http://www.solarmonitor.org/index.php
Solar Cycles http://solarcycles.net
Spaceweather data: http://tinyurl.com/67fv8sl
Solarflare Risk: http://spaceweather.inf.brad.ac.uk/images/flaremonitor.png
CME and Solar flare Impact Prediction System: http://iswa.ccmc.gsfc.nasa.gov:8080/IswaSystemWebApp/StreamArgumentServlet?cygnetInstanceId=24134139&argumentId=1
SOHO Realtime Images: http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/data/realtime-images.html
SDO AIA Wavelenghts: http://sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov/data/
Sun today — solar flares online : http://www.tesis.lebedev.ru/en/sun_flares.html?m=5&d=10&y=2011
Solar monitor: http://www.solarmonitor.org/
Helio viewer: http://helioviewer.org/
Solar System Scope: http://www.solarsystemscope.com/
Solar Facts and Spaceweather: http://thesuntoday.org/
Swiss Ephemeris Information http://www.astro.com/swisseph/ahel/2000/ahel2011.pdf
Anomalies in SOHO images explained http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/pickoftheweek/old/pow_old_2011.html
Also check STEREO Learning Center – Image artifacts: http://stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov/artifacts/artifacts.shtml
AuroraMax: Aurora Borealis in Realtime:http://astronomynorth.com/auroramax/#
Aurora Borealis Activity Now. Everything You Need to know:http://www.softservenews.com/aurora.htm
Tips on viewing the Aurora http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/Aurora/
Current Auroral Oval: http://www.sec.noaa.gov/pmap/gif/pmapN.gif
Kp maps of midnight equatorward boundaries – There are maps for four quadrants of the globe:
North America http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/Aurora/globeNW.html
South America and Eastern Pacific http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/Aurora/globeSW.html
Africa-Indian Ocean-Australasia http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/Aurora/globeSE.html
Livecam (Sweden): http://www.auroraskystation.com/live-camera/9/
AuroraSkyStation(refresh f5) http://www.auroraskystation.com/live-camera/9/
some extra info: http://www.softservenews.com/Aurora.htm
Solar Storm Archive: Archive of the most severe solar stormshttp://www.solarstorms.org/SRefStorms.html
Sun – Earth Events History http://www-istp.gsfc.nasa.gov/istp/events/
Would you like to take a quick Sun/Solar Test and feel like a real solar scientist? Unless you are a real solar scientist, then you have to ace this test. http://sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov/swx/forecastform.php
The Classification of X-ray Solar Flares:http://spaceweather.com/gl?ossary%2Fflareclasses.html%3FP%3FHPSESSID=kmd947qph8ef1rt24%3Fo712ju791
Planetary K-index explanation http://www.spaceweather.com/glossary/kp.html
NOAA Space Weather Scales http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/NOAAscales/
Space Weather Alerts and Warnings Timelinehttp://www.swpc.noaa.gov/alerts/alerts_timeline.html
Solar Influences Data Analysis Center (SIDC)http://sidc.oma.be/
Current Space Weather Conditions http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/
Geomagnetic Realtime Station Displayhttp://geomag.usgs.gov/realtime/
Realtime Magnetosphere Simulation http://www2.nict.go.jp/y/y223/simulation/realtime/
Real-Time SWMF (Magnetosphere-Ionosphere) – Image Browser http://ccmc.gsfc.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/SWMF_RealTime_browse.cgi
Realtime Sky Map Gamma Bursts http://grb.sonoma.edu/
SolarSoft Latest Events http://www.lmsal.com/solarsoft/latest_events/
Ionospheric Delay http://www.gdgps.net/products/images/tec-map-br.jpg
X-Ray Absorbtion Global http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/drap/Global.png
Live Earthquakes Map http://quakes.globalincidentmap.com/
Integrated Space Weather Analysis System:
Realtime Magnetosphere Simulation:
How the Sun Gets Its Spots:
The Analemma | Elliptical orbit – Effect: