This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
It was just over 152.5 years ago that our Blue Marble was attacked by a spurious outburst from our friendly heater located some 93 million miles away, and attack that normally takes 3-4 days, zipped through space in 17-hours and caused some pretty serious events on our home. During September 1st -2nd the largest recorded “geo-magnetic storm” slammed into our planet causing the earth’s magnetic shield to twist and bubble like it had not in our recorded history, being observed with outstanding brilliance as far south as the Caribbean, exploding with such brightness to wake miners from their deep slumber in the Rocky Mountains, some who began preparing breakfast thinking it was morning. Across the northeastern USA citizens were able to read the morning newspaper by the “aurora’s” light. The Internet of the day, our telegraph systems failed across Europe and North America, with sparks jumping from insulator to insulator, pylon to pylon, and in some instances paper laying near the “key” on the desks caught fire, and in some locations the media continue to function even thought the batteries had been damaged between the locations. It was at 11:18 AM (GMT) on the morning of the 1st of September that 33year-old Richard Carrington of a well appointed family, first observed some unusual sunspot activity, in his up-to-date private observatory, where his telescope was projecting an 11” wide image of the Sun on a screen –he immediately on taking up his graphite pencil set to sketching an image. What he was noting was the gathering or coming together of an enormous group of sunspots, glancing from time-to-time as his pencil flew across the paper he noticed two brilliant beads of blinding light appear over the sunspots, intensifying rapidly, and morphing into a kidney-shaped image.
He noted later, “being somewhat flurried by the surprise, I hastily ran to call someone to witness the exhibition with me, on returning within 60 seconds, I was mortified to find that it was already much changed and enfeeble”. witness watched the He and his “white spots”
contract to mere pinpoints and disappear. There had only been around 5 minutes – it was now 11:23 AM. They had witnessed the birth of a coronal mass ejection,
Just before dawn the next day (the CME traveling at some 5.48 mil mph), reached our heavens and all over planet Earth erupting in red, green, and purple “auroras”, were so brilliant and powerful that manmade light in the early morning hours was not necessary.
Carrington had witnessed the beginning of our biggest solar-storm in our recorded history, one created by the explosion of a white-light solar flare, a magnetic burst of energy on our friendly life-giver.
The event he witnessed not only produced a surge of visible light but a super huge cloud of charged particles and detached magnetic loops, “CMEs”, and the power behind the disturbance hurled the cloud of protons and electrons directly towards Earth. CMEs reach velocities between 44,739 mph to 7.158 mil mph, with an average around 1.113 mil mph, whereas an average CME would take 83.4 hours to bump into our magnetic shield. During the solar minimum period the Sun ejects CMEs on average of one every 5th day, during the period of solar maximum (which we’re in today) at least 3.5 per day – keep in mind that these are averages as we cannot observe what is happening on the backside of the Sun – in other words I realize the Sun is rotating, but CMEs do occur that we do not see or detect. The CMEs are balloon-shaped bursts of “solar wind” shooting out from the Sun’s corona, expanding as they climb. The Solar Plasma is heated to tens of millions of degrees, as the electrons, protons, and heavy nuclei are accelerated to near the speed of light. magnetic field lines faster The super-heated electrons move along the than the Solar Wind can flow, whereas
rearrangement of the magnetic field within the CMEs “may” result in the formation of a “shock” that accelerates particles “ahead” of the CME loop. Estimates tell us that each CME can release up to 220 billion pounds of this material, at the average speed noted above, in simple words CMEs are currently rated the biggest “explosions” in our solar system, approaching the power of “one billion” hydrogen bombs. Between us and the Sun is what our scholars label the “interplanetary medium”, which we often think as a “vacuum”, in reality it is a turbulent area dominated by the Solar Wind, which flows at velocities of 560,000 mph to 2.236 million mph, naturally the composition of the Solar Wind such as its density, make-up, and magnetic field strength vary with the ever changing conditions of the Sun – sort of like being married! Generally and average CME takes 3.5 days to effect our magnetic shield, in this case it is primarily a strong “magnetic cloud” that will have a greater effect on the magnetically created infrastructure (electricity) on our home world. The interplanetary space signature of a magnetic cloud being very
distinct, as its strong magnetic fields are accurately detected by our instruments, revealing its smooth rotation of the magnetic field direction. Students today are learning (if they can stay awake in class) that our planets magnetic field has been with us for some 3.45 billion years, albeit was not a strong as it is today – estimates run between 30% to 50% less.
Our scientists, in their search for life across the cosmos, explain that the magnetic field surrounding our Blue Marble is more than just a method to sail across the oceans using your trusty compass, and that although a planet needs water for life, it is also true that a planet needs its strong magnetic shield in order to maintain its atmosphere. The word “strong” must be emphasized, albeit is the “balance” between the planet’s magnetic field and the Solar Wind – in other words the more powerful Solar Wind, the stronger the magnetic field must be. The CMEs that arrive here do not always have the same effect, whereas the factor that determines how much we’ll be affected is the direction of the incoming magnetic field, or in particular the north-south direction – which scientists label the “Z” component. When the “Z” component is positive (corresponding to the northward field) the arriving field has “little” or “no” effect on the planet…flip it around to a negative it opposes the direction of the planets magnetic field – such as two different poles of bar magnets attract each other – and the world lights up, also keep in mind that over the space of a few minutes, hours, or days that the incoming magnetic field varies – as in the Jan 9th thought 11th, 1997 impact that it arrived as a negative-southward, and
slowly turned northward through the event – scholars tell us this was a “geoeffective” event. It is a foregone conclusion that sometime in the future we’ll experience another “Carrington-class” flare, and that it would dwarf the events we’ve experienced since 1859, whereas ice-records demonstrate the Carrington-class was the largest in 500 years. Unfortunately our advances in our technology, albeit I can send messages across the planet in the blink of an eye have made our society more susceptible to the effects of such an explosion on our Sun. Our power-lines with their highly technical controlled transformers and switching stations could be damaged and off-line for months if not years while manufacturers scrambled to make replacement units, our long-distance communication infrastructure would be in shambles, cell-phone networks out-of-service, our airport radar system ineffective, and in the forefront we could see our orbiting satellites severely effected and even knocked out of service, creating a real danger to our transportation system that relies on our GPS system – not to mention the critical timing mechanisms that govern our communications systems like the WWW. Engineers tell us that there is little we can do to protect our 900-plus orbiting satellites, that if we had to replace would run between $30 to $70 billion, going as far as to suggest our society should have at the ready a pipeline of satellites set in their launchers in preparation for a massive shutdown in space. You’re planning on going to the International Space Station, better hope you’re inside its shielded enclosure when and if a CME hits – otherwise you could become a member of the Fantastic Four. It is no wonder that space agencies across the world monitor the Sun 24/7, from Earth and from space where NASA itself has a fleet of spacecraft that keep a constant eye peering at it, like SOHO, Hinode, STEREO, ACE and in the near future the launch of the Solar Dynamics Observatory, observation and ongoing research will not “prevent” another Carrington Event, but it could make a massive explosion less of a surprise. We have experienced some minor CMEs in our recent history that have caused infrastructure failures, such as the one on August 4th, 1972 took down the long-distant AT&T telephone communications in Illinois, an incident that
prompted AT&T to redesign their power sub-stations for their trans-Atlantic sub-sea cables. Then there was the event on March 13th, 1989 that caused geo-magnetic disturbances that disrupted electrical power transmissions from the Hydro Quebec generating station in Canada, blacking out most of the province and plunging 6-million people into darkness for 9-hours, and accompanied by aurora-induced power surges melting transformers in New Jersey. In December 2005, X-Rays from another solar storm disrupted satelliteto-ground communications and GPS navigation signals for approximately 10minutes, albeit may not appear as too much time, what if you were in an commercial aircraft on its final approach and the GPS gear went dark? Compare these lesser events to a “Carrington” event, you get the picture?
The Solar Wind in transporting the CME (and the Sun’s magnetic field), in either the North or South orientation, southern creating heavy duty geo-magnetic storms, whereas it is the energy generate or added to at the “reconnection” point that is huge, and as it travels back to the Earth’s atmosphere that causes the most disruptions.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.