Lessons learned in the past can help us better prepare for the future
English amateur astronomer Richard Carrington witnessed a cluster of dark spots on the sun’s surface through a private observatory’s telescope oculus at eighteen minutes past eleven on the morning of September 1, 1859.
Carrington described what he saw as several dark patches on the sun’s surface. The spots emitted a bright white light which lasted approximately five minutes.
Hours later, a massive solar storm struck Earth. The intense solar energy caused telegraph communication lines worldwide to begin to fail. Auroras were reported to have lit up skies all across the planet.
Many telegraph stations and their operators reported unusual abnormalities a few days prior. In fact, some of the stations caught fire.
“Many telegraph lines across North America were rendered inoperable on the night of August 28 as the first of two successive solar storms struck,” writes Cristopher Klein for the publication History. “E.W. Culgan, a telegraph manager in Pittsburgh, reported that the resulting currents flowing through the wires were so powerful that platinum contacts were in danger of melting and “streams of fire” were pouring forth from the circuits. In Washington, D.C., telegraph operator Frederick W. Royce was severely shocked as his forehead grazed a ground wire. According to a witness, an arc of fire jumped from Royce’s head to the telegraphic equipment. Some telegraph stations that used chemicals to mark sheets reported that powerful surges caused telegraph paper to combust.”
On the morning of September 2, the magnetic influx from a second storm wreaked havoc on operators and their terminals. This became apparent when American Telegraph Company operators arrived at 8 a.m. for work at a Boston office where they discovered that communications could not be sent or received. The Victorian Internet was down.
Soon after, workers soon began to discover just how charged the Earth’s atmosphere actually was during the storm. History reports: “The atmosphere was so charged, however, that operators made an incredible discovery: They could unplug their batteries and still transmit messages to Portland, Maine, at 30- to 90-second intervals using only the auroral current.”
“Messages still couldn’t be sent as seamlessly as under normal conditions, but it was a useful workaround,” the publication maintains. “By 10 a.m. the magnetic disturbance abated enough that stations reconnected their batteries, but transmissions were still affected for the rest of the morning.”
Fire filled sky
When telegraph machines came back online, stories began to circle. Newspapers around the globe reported bizarre red and orange skies. One woman from South Carolina gave her eyewitness account.
“The eastern sky appeared of a blood red color,” the woman from Sullivan Island reported. “It seemed brightest exactly in the east, as though the full moon, or rather the sun, were about to rise.”
“It extended almost to the zenith,” she explained. “The whole island was illuminated. The sea reflected the phenomenon, and no one could look at it without thinking of the passage in the Bible which says, ‘the sea was turned to blood.’ The shells on the beach, reflecting light, resembled coals of fire.”
The Northern Lights could be seen as far south as Jamaica. The skies were so well lit that bricklayers in Abbeville, South Carolina awoke and started working until they realized what time it actually was and returned to bed. History.com reports: “In Bealeton, Virginia, larks were stirred from their sleep at 1 a.m. and began to warble.” People all across America reportedly stood in awe, looking at the brilliantly colored skies. Some took advantage of the glow and got their newspaper reading time in.
The power of the storm
The Carrington Event was the most powerful solar storm to occur in the past five centuries. Its bombardment was massive and caused extensive damage.
If such an event were to occur in today’s time, extensive social and economic disruptions would prevail. Power grids, satellite communications, GPS systems, and electronics would be affected worldwide. The estimated damage would reach trillions of dollars. As a result, humans would virtually be sent back to the Stone Age.
A Business Insider report from 2016 reveals that “a massive solar storm could wipe out almost all of our modern technology — and we’d have just hours to prepare.” The shocking headline is real and offers a glimpse into what modern society is dealing with in terms of the Sun.
The invisible enemy
The National Aeronautics Space Administration recorded three solar storms that affected power grids and other electronics negatively over the past four decades. The extent to which modern technology has been integrated into our everyday lives is scary. Banking systems, credit systems, GPS systems, the Internet, apps, and other technologies–it all rules us. We are all jacked into and reliant on the modern matrix in one way or another. Our world has become almost fully integrated with technology. But technology can be a dual-edged sword.
Imagine a simultaneous loss of Internet, banking systems, record systems, GPS navigation systems, air traffic control systems, and so on. The catastrophe would be devastating. Modern man would suffer. Civilization would be greatly impacted.
To top it off, not only the people of Earth would be affected. Astronauts in space would also suffer. NASA reports: “Humans in space will be in peril too.”
“Spacewalking astronauts might have only minutes after the first flash of light to find shelter from energetic solar particles following close on the heels of those initial photons,” wrote the agency. “Their spacecraft would probably have adequate shielding; the key would be getting inside in time.”
Withal, there appears to be no escape. So, preparedness may be the way to go. Have you thought about how you will heat your home with no electricity? Or better yet–where do you find water in the city once the power is out? Maybe now is the time to sharpen up your off-grid power and survival plans.