What Was the Carrington Event? – The Most Powerful Solar Storm on Record

Isn’t modern society great? With all this technology surrounding us in
all directions. It’s like a cocoon of sweet, fluffy silicon. There are chips in my fitness tracker, my
bluetooth headset, mobile phone, car keys and that’s just on my body. At all times in the Cain household, there
dozens of internet devices connected to my wifi router. I’m not sure how we got to the point, but
there’s one thing I know for sure, more is better. If I could use two smartphones at the same
time, I totally would. And I’m sure you agree, that without all
this technology, life would be a pale shadow of its current glory. Without these devices, we’d have to actually
interact with each other. Maybe enjoy the beauty of nature, or something
boring like that. It turns out, that terrible burning orb in
the sky, the Sun, is fully willing and capable of bricking our precious technology. It’s done so in the past, and it’s likely
to take a swipe at us in the future. I’m talking about solar storms, of course,
tremendous blasts of particles and radiation from the Sun which can interact with the Earth’s
magnetosphere and overwhelm anything with a wire. In fact, we got a sneak preview of this back
in 1859, when a massive solar storm engulfed the Earth and ruined our old timey technology. It was known as the Carrington Event. Follow your imagination back to Thursday,
September 1st, 1859. This was squarely in the middle of the Victorian
age. And not the awesome, fictional Steampunk Victorian
age where spectacled gentleman and ladies of adventure plied the skies in their steam-powered
brass dirigibles. No, it was the regular crappy Victorian age
of cholera and child labor. Technology was making huge leaps and bounds,
however, and the first telegraph lines and electrical grids were getting laid down. Imagine a really primitive version of today’s
electrical grid and internet. On that fateful morning, the British astronomer
Richard Carrington turned his solar telescope to the Sun, and was amazed at the huge sunspot
complex staring back at him. So impressed that he drew this picture of
it. While he was observing the sunspot, Carrington
noticed it flash brightly, right in his telescope, becoming a large kidney-shaped bright white
flare. Carrington realized he was seeing unprecedented
activity on the surface of the Sun. Within a minute, the activity died down and
faded away. And then about 5 minutes later. Aurora activity erupted across the entire
planet. We’re not talking about those rare Northern
Lights enjoyed by the Alaskans, Canadians and Northern Europeans in the audience. We’re talking about everyone, everywhere
on Earth. Even in the tropics. In fact, the brilliant auroras were so bright
you could read a book to them. The beautiful night time auroras was just
one effect from the monster solar flare. The other impact was that telegraph lines
and electrical grids were overwhelmed by the electricity pushed through their wires. Operators got electrical shocks from their
telegraph machines, and the telegraph paper lit on fire. What happened? The most powerful solar flare ever observed
is what happened. A solar flare occurs because the Sun’s magnetic
field lines can get tangled up in the solar atmosphere. In a moment, the magnetic fields reorganize
themselves, and a huge wave of particles and radiation is released. Flares happen in three stages. First, you get the precursor stage, with a
blast of soft X-ray radiation. This is followed by the impulsive stage, where
protons and electrons are accelerated off the surface of the Sun. And finally, the decay stage, with another
burp of X-rays as the flare dies down. These stages can happen in just a few seconds
or drag out over an hour. Remember those particles hurled off into space? They take several hours or a few days to reach
Earth and interact with our planet’s protective magnetosphere, and then we get to see beautiful
auroras in the sky. This geomagnetic storm causes the Earth’s
magnetosphere to jiggle around, which drives charges through wires back and forth, burning
out circuits, killing satellites, overloading electrical grids. Back in 1859, this wasn’t a huge deal, when
our quaint technology hadn’t progressed beyond the occasional telegraph tower. Today, however, it’s an entirely different
story. In a second, I’m going to explain why a
solar flare as powerful as the Carrington Event would make for a very bad day in our
modern technological society. But first, I’d like to thank Lew O’Hara,
Edward Roberts, Rev Ronald G Cosseboom, John Duff, and the rest of our 709 patrons for
their generous support. If you love what we’re doing and want to
help out, head over to patreon.com/universetoday. Today, our entire civilization depends on
wires. There are wires in the hundreds of satellites
flying overhead that we depend on for communications and navigation. Our homes and businesses are connected by
an enormous electrical grid. Airplanes, cars, smartphones, this camera
I’m using. Everything is electronic, or controlled by
electronics. Think it can’t happen? We got a sneak preview back in March, 1989
when a much smaller geomagnetic storm crashed into the Earth. People as far south as Florida and Cuba could
see auroras in the sky, while North America’s entire interconnected electrical grid groaned
under the strain. The Canadian province of Quebec’s electrical
grid wasn’t able to handle the load and went entirely offline. For 12 hours, in the freezing Quebec winter,
almost the entire province was without power. I’m telling you, that place gets cold, so
this was really bad timing. Satellites went offline, including NASA’s
TDRS-1 communication satellite, which suffered 250 separate glitches during the storm. And on July 23, 2012, a Carrington-class solar
superstorm blasted off the Sun, and off into space. Fortunately, it missed the Earth, and we were
spared the mayhem. If a solar storm of that magnitude did strike
the Earth, the cleanup might cost $2 trillion, according to a study by the National Academy
of Sciences. It’s been 160 years since the Carrington
Event, and according to ice core samples, this was the most powerful solar flare over
the last 500 years or so. Solar astronomers estimate solar storms like
this happen twice a millennium, which means we’re not likely to experience another one
in our lifetimes. But if we do, it’ll cause worldwide destruction
of technology and anyone reliant on it. You might want to have a contingency plan
with some topic starters when you can’t access the internet for a few days. Locate nearby interesting nature spots to
explore and enjoy while you wait for our technological civilization to be rebuilt. Have you ever seen an aurora in your lifetime? Give me the details of your experience in
the comments. In our next episode, what’s the bright star
in the sky, right next to the Moon. How come I never noticed that before? It’s Venus, and it’s awesome. The Sun, like the rest of the Universe, wants
you dead. In this video, we detail all the different
ways the Sun is trying to kill you.

10 Replies to “What Was the Carrington Event? – The Most Powerful Solar Storm on Record”

  1. Gee. I wonder how resilient all the nuclear reactors are against this level of storm..
    And, didn't Russia turn their Deadman switch back on their nuclear arsenal?

    What is a Fermi Paradox Great Filter event?

  2. We should all be ready for the next time the Sun farts on us. We won't just have telegraph lines powering themselves.

  3. Please also check out this explanation on national radio how the Sun affects the cycles of world wars https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kiFqT8DjWmQ

  4. Carrington event never happened.
    That would have been impossible as the discription says.
    Nikola TESLA Was born in 1856 .
    1859 he was only 3 years old.
    AC current wasn't discovered and working by a 3 year old.. .
    That leaves us with DC current..
    Guess what .. ?
    YOU can zap the crap out of it and nothing,.Happens . Why…
    Its direct current a closed loop system . Telegraph DC sealed system or it don't work…
    BUT, but , WAIT…. THERES MUCH MORE. Proof you want proof . Your proof is what…? Found where ..? How old is it..?.
    Not older than the internet I assure you.. Lets toss out wiki peidia its for Morons. Lazy morons at that.. Encyclepedia Britannica published since when 1800s till 2012. 2015 ..? Right.. find themCarrinton event in anyone before 1990s Good luck I'll wait..

    My only point is our Education system its anything but . Its designed for us to Fail Education..And in everyway.. iI's deliberate well planed and Executed by those we ELECTED. No… They were selected decades in advance. Right up to a INCLUDING Donald Trump. Nancy Pelosi number one supporter for DECADES.
    It all staged bad actors. And we our being played.. HAVE BEEN our whole lives…

  5. We're all now just marking time until the completely 100% inevitable next carrington event, after which there will soon be about a 1000 simultaneous meltdowns of all the assorted nuclear reactors and spent fuel pools.

    Radiation is bad for children and other living things. Very, very bad.

  6. I was never taught about this event when I was in school! How much wiser and more prepared would we be – as a nation – if we knew HOW to prepare for an event with such as this?

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