The geomagnetic storm of 1859 is the strongest till now. What will happen if something similar hits Earth today? Will such a solar storm knock out the internet, GPS, and electricity?
The Carrington Event caused widespread terror in 1859! The geomagnetic storm caused the telegraph system to give electrical shocks to the operators, it set fire in offices and more. Apart from that, it generated auroras in areas on Earth that rarely, if ever, saw such a spectacle. The Carrington Event is considered the largest recorded account of a solar storm that hit Earth. But this is not the only geomagnetic storm in history that we have seen.
These days, the number of geomagnetic storms is rising and the reason is simple. A new solar cycle, which starts over every 11 years, has just begun. The Sun has begun its ‘Solar Cycle 25’, which is expected to peak in 2025. During this transition of the solar cycle, the Sun’s surface transforms its nature from calm to stormy. And these solar outbursts shoot coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which are basically massive solar particles that generate geomagnetic storms on Earth and could cause power grid fluctuations, inconsistencies in satellite orientation, and radio blackout on Earth.
How do Geomagnetic storms occur on Earth?
A massive solar storm is caused when a bubble of superheated gas, called the plasma or a coronal mass ejection (CME), is ejected from the surface of the Sun. A geomagnetic storm itself is a severe disturbance of Earth’s magnetosphere that occurs when energy from the solar storm is transmitted very rapidly into the space environment around our planet. These CMEs carry the electrically charged particles which shoot towards the Earth and interact with the its magnetic field. This interaction causes all the electrical impact on Earth as well as the auroras at poles.
The effect of these geomagnetic storms can be measured. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration uses the Geomagnetic Storms scale to measure the strength of these storms. With G-Scale having a rating starting with G1 as being minor to G5 being extreme in nature. The Carrington Event would have been rated G5.
What will happen if the Earth will witness the Carrington Event today?
David Wallace, the Assistant Clinical Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Mississippi State University shared with The Conversation that if the Earth ever witnesses a Carrington Event-like geomagnetic storm today, then its impact would be larger than what we had seen in 1859! A geomagnetic storm of this intensity would affect a majority of the electrical systems that we use every day.
A storm that is said to be three times weaker than the Carrington Event occurred in 1989 in Quebec, Canada, which damaged a transformer and grid’s circuit breakers in New Jersey. This left the people without power for almost nine hours. Not just electric failures, but the digital world will be affected too on a worldwide scale, as it can take down the internet service providers, which can hamper the communication, he further explained. The most recent example of the destructive powers of a geomagnetic storm is the recent knockdown of 49 satellites of the Elon Musk-led SpaceX company in the atmosphere.