The source was actually 90 million miles away. A surge of particles from the fiery sun hit Earth’s upper atmosphere, creating magnetic storms that dyed the sky and disrupted electrical systems.
now, Newly discovered data show This February 1872 event ranks among the top three largest geomagnetic storms to hit Earth on record. The findings reveal that these large-scale events, or supermagnetic storms, are more common than researchers previously realized and pose great risks if they occur in today’s technology-heavy society. Did.
“The intensity of the solar magnetic storm was very large, probably one of the largest,” said Takashi Hayakawa, lead author of the study. “A geomagnetic storm this powerful would completely disrupt modern civilization.”
A storm off the charts
The most powerful supermagnetic storm is said to be the Carrington phenomenon of September 1859, named after the British astronomer who helped explain it. This storm brought glowing lights, or aurora borealis, all the way to Tahiti. This was a big surprise since most of the auroras are clustered around the Earth’s poles. A sudden burst of electricity crippled the world’s telegraph systems, stopping messages.
The Carrington incident was thought to be a unique and unusual event, but scientists are learning that this is not true.
In May 1921, another supermagnetic storm occurred, the largest magnetic storm of the 20th century. This storm, also known as the New York Railroad Storm, produced spectacular aurora borealis during the night. Telephone and telegraph systems connected to the railroad systems around New York City and the state were also disrupted and damaged.
The new study adds a third storm from February 1872 to the geomagnetic pantheon, ranking it as intense, if not stronger, than other storms on several criteria. This storm pushed the aurora farther south than the Carrington event, causing as much or more magnetic disturbances on Earth.
“Some of the colors mentioned in this event in terms of aurora coloration and their behavior are, in my mind, even more obvious than what is documented in the literature. [Carrington] ” said co-author Delores Knipp, an astrophysicist at the University of Colorado Boulder. “The level of magnetic disturbance, or perturbation, is probably as large as the Carrington phenomenon.”
Search for clues to the geomagnetic past
It takes a little detective work to analyze events that you didn’t witness firsthand.
Formal scientific observations of this event were limited in 1872, but researchers have identified overlooked sunspot records, magnetic field records, newspaper clippings, telegraph operator and ship records, and other available sources. We found over 700 reports about this event.
Using this document, Hayakawa and colleagues at the US National Solar Observatory and the Royal Observatory of Belgium assessed the storm’s strength, duration, and origin. They also reconstructed the situation to see how far the aurora probably extended during the storm. The study took approximately six years to complete.
The aurora borealis was discovered in a very unusual location close to the equator. A telegrapher in Mumbai reported that strong ground currents occurred from 7:30 pm on February 4, 1872 to 7:00 am on February 5, 1872, and that the aurora borealis was clearly visible from 8:30 pm to 4:30 am. . The aurora borealis was shining to its fullest in Aden. A bright arc was reported in Shanghai.
“It was certainly a surprise for scientists because India is far from the magnetic pole,” says Hayakawa, an astrophysicist at Nagoya University. “In general, stronger magnetic storms are needed to expand the aurora’s oval, and therefore its geographic area.”
However, the cause of the massive storm was quite subtle. The researchers analyzed sunspot records and found that the storm likely originated from a medium-sized sunspot cluster. Extreme geomagnetic storms usually originate from giant sunspots.
“It’s the complexity of the sunspot region that really matters, although perhaps not as much,” Knipp said. He said it was alarming that such a violent storm could emerge from a moderate sunspot group, but that agencies around the world were working together to track and study these triggers on the Sun before they hit Earth. He said there was.
Three supermagnetic storms in the past two centuries may not seem like a lot, but researchers say they’re far too frequent for comfort.
Astrophysicist Dan Baker, who was not involved in the study, said he was surprised to see another incredibly violent storm occur relatively soon after the famous Carrington event. He said the events of February 1872 “further strengthen the sense that large and highly destructive solar events and associated magnetic storms are more prevalent than most people assume.” Stated.
“If the sun is producing disturbances like the Carrington phenomenon or worse essentially every solar cycle, or even every solar cycle, then we have We should sit up and pay attention.” Boulder.
In fact, such a supermagnetic storm barely missed Earth in July 2012. Although many media outlets did not report on the potentially devastating event, this storm was much more powerful. over 150 years.
Hayakawa said a storm of this scale would cause many problems in modern society. It would disrupt the energy, communications, and satellite systems that we are accustomed to in our daily lives.
But he says such events are still rare. You will need to adjust some parameters. The sun needs to emit fast eruptions, the sun and earth’s magnetic fields need to link properly, and the storm needs to be very large. Next, you need to point it towards the earth.