It was Sept 1, 1859. Astronomer Richard Carrington recorded an enormous solar flare on the Sun. 17.6 hours later, after traveling 150 million km, a large corona mass ejection from the Sun hit the Earth, dead on. The resulting interaction with Earth's magnetic field had dramatic effects. Miners in Colorado woke up at 1am thinking it was morning, because the auroras were so bright. Auroras were visible as far south as Colombia, South America. Meanwhile, currents induced on telegraph lines gave electric shocks to operators, and created sparks that set papers ablaze.
This event, later dubbed "The Carrington Event" was the result of a Coronal Mass Ejection with the energy equivalent of 10 billion atomic bombs.
Could it happen again? Well, in 2012 a similar CME missed the Earth by just 9 days in our orbit. So yes, it's inevitable. But today's civilization is far more dependent upon satellites and electricity than we were in 1859. If we were hit today, the CME could knock out all satellites, and blow out all high power transformers, which would take years to replace, knocking us back to 'horse and buggy' technology. Costs would run into the trillions of dollars. The good news? We are monitoring the Sun 24/7 now, and would have 15-20 hours advance notice of a CME, so could take transformers offline and disconnect them from the grid. That would produce local blackouts for a few days but we'd recover quickly. Satellites in orbit, and any astronauts in the International Space Station however would not be so lucky. Follow @azastroguy for fun, educational, and entertaining content!
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