Monster solar storm that hit Earth discovered in the past

Something this big today would surely fry electrical grids, GPS, and communications. It may be bigger than the Carrington Solar event of 1859.

Scientists have found evidence of a huge blast of radiation from the Sun that hit Earth more than 2,000 years ago. The result has important implications for the present, because solar storms can disrupt modern technology.

The team found evidence in Greenland ice cores that the Earth was bombarded with solar proton particles in 660BC. The event was about 10 times more powerful than any since modern instrumental records began.

The Sun periodically releases huge blasts of charged particles and other radiation that can travel towards Earth.

The particular kind of solar emission recorded in the Greenland ice is known as a solar proton event (SPE). In the modern era, when these high-energy particles collide with Earth, they can knock out electronics in satellites we rely on for communications and services such as GPS.

The radiation may also pose a health risk for astronauts. And passengers and crew on commercial aircraft that fly at high altitudes and close to the poles, such as on transatlantic routes, could receive increased radiation doses – though this depends on many variables.

Other types of solar radiation events can trigger aurorae in the high atmosphere and shut down electrical grids.

Modern instrumental monitoring data extends back about 60 years. So finding an event in 660BC that’s an order of magnitude greater than anything seen in modern times suggests we haven’t appreciated how powerful such events can be.

660BC was the date, according to legend, when Japan’s first emperor – Jimmu – acceded to the throne. It was the time of the Iron Age in Europe and the Middle East – before the rise of the Roman Empire.

The researchers found evidence for the event in the form of radioactive isotopes (particular forms of an element) present in the Greenland ice. These were beryllium-10 and chlorine-36, which are regarded as being of cosmic origin.

Researchers have also identified two other large events from the past, which left evidence in both Greenland ice cores and tree rings. The signature researchers look for in tree rings is the isotope carbon-14.

Source: BBC Science

The research has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Multiradionuclide evidence for an extreme solar proton event around 2,610 B.P. (∼660 BC)

Significance

This study provides evidence of an enormous solar storm around 2,610 B.P. It is only the third such event reliably documented and is comparable with the strongest event detected at AD 774/775. The event of 2,610 years B.P. stands out because of its particular signature in the radionuclide data [i.e., carbon-14 (14C) data alone does not allow for an unequivocal detection of the event]. It illustrates that present efforts to find such events based solely on 14C data likely lead to an underestimated number of such potentially devastating events for our society. In addition to 14C data, high-resolution records of beryllium-10 and chlorine-36 are crucial for reliable estimates of the occurrence rate and the properties of past solar proton events.

Abstract

Recently, it has been confirmed that extreme solar proton events can lead to significantly increased atmospheric production rates of cosmogenic radionuclides. Evidence of such events is recorded in annually resolved natural archives, such as tree rings [carbon-14 (14C)] and ice cores [beryllium-10 (10Be), chlorine-36 (36Cl)]. Here, we show evidence for an extreme solar event around 2,610 years B.P. (∼660 BC) based on high-resolution 10Be data from two Greenland ice cores. Our conclusions are supported by modeled 14C production rates for the same period. Using existing 36Cl ice core data in conjunction with 10Be, we further show that this solar event was characterized by a very hard energy spectrum. These results indicate that the 2,610-years B.P. event was an order of magnitude stronger than any solar event recorded during the instrumental period and comparable with the solar proton event of AD 774/775, the largest solar event known to date. The results illustrate the importance of multiple ice core radionuclide measurements for the reliable identification of short-term production rate increases and the assessment of their origins.


Multiradionuclide measurements for the 2,610-y B.P. (∼660 BC) event. (A) Time series for the newly measured NGRIP 10Be concentration (red curve, left axis) with corresponding measurement error margins and estimated natural baseline (dashed red line). Baseline concentration for 10Be is calculated as the average 10Be concentration for the measured period excluding the three peak values that span about 2.3 y. The red envelope represents the 10Be production range attributable to a solar modulation Φ varying between 500 and 1,200 MeV, which corresponds to a typical modern 11-y cycle (36). This estimate assumes that 10Be variations in Greenland ice cores vary proportionally to the global average 10Be production rate changes as supported by 10Be–14C comparison studies (29). NGRIP 10Be concentration measurements have been overlaid on the modeled 14C production rate inferred from the data shown in Fig. 1 (gray curve, right axis) with 1σ uncertainties (gray error bars). The 14C production rate is normalized to preindustrial absolute production rates. (B) Time series for 10Be (red curve, left axis) (ref. 26 and this study) and 36Cl concentrations measured in the GRIP ice core (blue curve, right axis) (21), with associated measurement errors (1σ) and calculated baseline concentration for 10Be and 36Cl (dashed blue line). Red and blue envelopes are as per A but considering the data’s lower resolution for 10Be and 36Cl, respectively. All ice core data are plotted on the timescale according to ref. 29. Please note that the timescale in A is stretched as indicated by the lines between the panels.
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55 thoughts on “Monster solar storm that hit Earth discovered in the past

  1. Lost Dad suddenly on this day 30 years ago in Pasadena, Ca. at the same hospital he was born in, the same day the protons maxed out from the 8-Mar-89 event. We always said Heaven was celebrating the new arrival…

  2. First of all, I would like to see this event chronicled in other ice cores proving it was global – just because we think its global doesn’t mean its global. No, I have no mechanism for such an event to happen locally, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

    Secondly, I would think there would be something in the historic records of ancient civilizations – this must have produced quite a light show. Since we know just “when” to look, we should see something. There would be Chinese, Greek, and other ancient civilizations that were writing by that time.

    Its not that I doubt there were “monster storms”, but I would like to see more than one line of evidence before I commit to believing they found one.

    Monster storm – a bigger than usual emission from the Sun? Or was it just pointed more accurately at us? That would be interesting to know as well.

    I wonder how much this is going to throw off Carbon-14 dates previous to 660 BC. In fact, if this leads to discovering more and more of these events, it could lead to really screwing up what we think we know from carbon-14 dating. Now I know they can calibrate newer carbon-14 dating pretty well using tree rings, but this far back? Don’t know…

    • “Secondly, I would think there would be something in the historic records of ancient civilizations –”

      There may have been such records acquired by the Library of Alexandria, Egypt, but unfortunately, the library was sacked on several occasions and eventually declined.

      • Rome’s Emperor Caracalla, illiterate, called out all the youth who could actually read at Alexandria , and had them all slaughtered. He left the records. That was the end of the Library, when it burned no one noticed – a long dark age followed.
        Exactly this Roman imperial technique is being used today – get the youth into a GND mob and science dies.

        Trump is taking on Caracalla!

    • C-14 half life is 5,730 years, so going back 2000 years is no problem. It is claimed that C-14 dating can be good as far back to 40,000 years. Probably, that is pushing it right to the max, under favorable conditions.

      People have been looking at how cosmogenic isotope production rates vary over time for decades now. Accounting for varying C-14 production at various times in history is key to getting good historical dates. As far as I know, one of the calibration tricks is to get a sample (perhaps wood) from an event with a known date. An analysis of such a sample would provide a data point for a calibration curve. A classic example is Mt. Vesuvius which destroyed Pompeii in AD 79. Yet this huge spike has never been seen before. Something does not seem to be adding up here.

      • There should be many samples of that no-so-extremely old wood. I don’t think that anybody was looking for minute amounts of Cl-36 or Be-10 in them, but now they will.

      • 40,000 years is just possible with modern ultrafiltration techniques and mass spectrometry measurement of C14, but only with good samples.

        Calibration curves are, if possible, done by measuring radiocarbon in individual tree-rings of known age. There are other methods (speleothems, rhythmites etc.) but they are much more uncertain.

      • Keep in mind any excess 14C has a half life in the atmosphere of 5 years. We know that from the 1963 bomb spike. So any sudden jump in 14C only has a short time to show up in living tissue, die, and then be preserved. In wood, the 14C should not be uniformly distributed, but one might expect to see a 14C spike in the rings themselves, with a slow decrease in levels as the tree continues to grow. That’s assuming the 14C does not readily turn over in the wood. Given its structure, as a complex carbohydrate, it should be stable. But biology can surprise us.
        I just found a paper that shows the bomb spike in trees. See https://journals.uair.arizona.edu/index.php/radiocarbon/article/view/3217/pdf

    • Pedestrian observation – Get a core sample from the oldest trees on Earth, including Bristlecone Pine and a (particular species of) Norwegian pine that supposedly pre-dates Bristlecone. I throw this out because of A) Geographical distance between the species, and 2) Differences in radiation levels to determine what section of Earth was hardest hit.

    • The most likely source that far back would be babylonian astronomical records, but I am uncertain whether they recorded auroras. The chinese Spring and Autumn Annals also cover that period. Otherwise there is very little. Remember that the Iliad had just been composed at the time.

    • Secondly, I would think there would be something in the historic records of ancient civilizations –
      _____________________________________________________

      Lots of reports of fire and lightning in 7 century BC:

      https://www.google.com/search?client=ms-android-samsung&ei=RpuKXObOE4z4kwXNu4SYAQ&q=seventh++7+++century+BC++Riots+fires+&oq=seventh++7+++century+BC++Riots+fires+&gs_l=mobile-gws-wiz-serp.

      OTOH reports of riots and burning we find in any historical documents.

    • I had a friend who took an English Lit class in college. During the discussion of Beowulf, the subject of Stonehenge came up. The professor asked the class how they theorized that the heavy stones were put into place. My friend, being a smart ass and absurdist, quickly raised his hand. The professor called on him. My friend said, “The stones were easily put in place because gravity was much less back then. The people just picked them up and sat them in place.”

      The next week my friend dropped the class after asking the professor, “What king of wolf was Beowulf? Was it a grey wolf or a timber wolf?”

  3. Solar proton events don’t leave much of a trace. Despite the great increase in solar cosmic rays, they are of much lower energy than galactic cosmic rays and result in a small increase in cosmogenic isotopes.

    Since they don’t leave much trace we don’t know how frequent they are, and any way calculating chances for rare phenomena is a fools game. They don’t mean much. Should we expend lotsa money proofing for really rare events or run the small risk of incurring massive losses if they happen? After all the movies we haven’t got a way of deflecting a big asteroid headed our way, and it doesn’t seem as we are working hard to have one ready any time soon.

    • Soon we’l have a Space Force! Good subject for the first mission – go practice pushing asteroids around, see if you can get one to crash into the Sun.

      • We currently have three space forces. The idea is to just merge them together instead of having duplication of bureaucracy among three different commands: Naval Space Command, Air Force Space Command, Army Air Defense and Space Command. The idea is similar to turning the Army Air Corps into its own service but in this case the space commands of three services would be combined to save money, reduce duplication of effort and competition for the same resources.

  4. Now….. all they gotta do is figure out a way to tax the population to save us from it. Probably slip it in somewhere between the “Save the Ocean from Plastic tax” and the “Carbon tax”.

    • “somewhere between the “Save the Ocean from Plastic tax” and the “Carbon tax”.” What, no rain tax?

  5. Hmmm…so are they back-projecting a single very large event from a modest increase spread over a long period?

    That would seem like the inverse conjecture of what the climate alarmists normally get up to. Without good evidence, it is no more excusable than pretending previous climate extremes didn’t happen because the paleo-record doesn’t have the resolution to show it.

    Insufficient evidence is insufficient evidence.

  6. In a major proton event, what happens to the electrons – unbalanced charges on the sun and earth? Also isn’t Be10 created from the protons striking nitrogen in the atmosphere and the isotope is not from the sun. Or does cosmogenic just mean caused by the sun or other sources.

  7. “There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact”
    Mark Twain. Life in the Mississippi (1883).

  8. To the ‘average’ peasant of those days (~600BC) would any physical effect have been noticed?
    If it were to happen now our electrical grid would be fried (for years), railroad rails would heat and melt, and every electronic device outside of a Faraday Box would be destroyed. Even home wiring might melt (and catch wood on fire).
    But the only thing metal to the residents then would be iron farm tools and iron and bronze tools and weapons. None of which are long enough to intercept much magnetic lines of force.

    • Night-time aurorae would be spectacular down to the mid-latitudes, or even the equator.

      And these most massive CME’s are associated with coronal x-ray flaring that also have optical (visible to humans) flares.
      Also the geomagnetosphere gets its “Bell rung” by these events as the CME particle flow greatly disturbs the magneto-sheath around the Earth. That means compasses can become erratic. But compass navigation was not yet invented at that time.

      The Carrington Event was noted for its optical flares visible to naked eye of solar observers.

      “Carrington spotted what he described as “two patches of intensely bright and white light” erupting from the sunspots.”
      https://www.history.com/news/a-perfect-solar-superstorm-the-1859-carrington-event

    • Not sure, but how about St. Elmo’s fire seen on ships in thunderstorms? Metal weapons or tools would be enough. I wonder iif are there any classical Greek or Egyptian references….
      (Capt. Ahab used it to great effect to mesmerize the crew of the Pequot – they imbibed a shining religious fervor, rather like the GND crew today)!

  9. These big Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) events are the end result of instabilities in magnetic flux tubes that form complex, opposite polarity spots in a massive swirl of twisting of magnetic field lines at the solar photosphere (surface). These twisting flux tubes are at the solar surface (photosphere) and form active regions (sunspot groups) after rising up many tens of megameters through the convective zone.

    The interesting part for many solar physicists is not the magnetic re-connection event itself and subsequent ejection of huge amounts of material into the corona that becomes the CME. The interesting part is trying to understand why the buoyancy instabilities in rising flux tubes arise at all in some tubes and not others.

    In MHD simulations in published papers, physicists running MHD-solar flux tube models artificially induce a set of buoyancy differentials (usually a buoyancy perturbation at two spots along a long-thin flux tube) in a section of a rising magnetic flux tube. The buoyancy differntial then initiates what is called alpha twisting that then eventually leads to the polarity mixing in active regions at the solar chromosphere surface.
    The twisting loops on the tube are seen as polarity intermixing in an active region on solar magnetograms from SDO (NASA solar observing satellite at L1 point). The results of the MHD-flux tube simulations match well with observations, and this demonstrates that it is likely buoyancy differentials in a single rising flux tube that eventually leads to the X-ray flaring from Active Regions (ARs). It is the twisting, polarity intermixing in ARs sunspots within a single penumbra that are the magnetic hallmark of coming x-ray flares and CMEs. These are classified magnetically as beta-gamma-delta Active Regions.

    An example of a Beta-Gamma-Delta AR is here:
    https://i.postimg.cc/YjKYg6Sb/AR-12673-20170905-2345-BGD-DKC.png
    This is AR 12673 from September 5, 2017. This AR produced an X9.3 class flare about 12 hours after this SDO image was taken. That X9.3 flare and associated CME towards Earth was the most intense flare of the current solar cycle 24. Note the polarity intermixing, as the central region polarities swirl CCW around each other.

    To be clear, not all CME’s arise from BGD AR’s. But in surveys of recorded solar flaring activity, over 95% of xray-flares and the largest CME’s all come from these BGD active regions. And most active regions never become beta-gamma or even beta-gamma-delta in magnetic character. Only a few bad boys turn BGD.

    For more info on BGD classification, see Mount Wilson Magnetic Classification system here:
    http://sidc.oma.be/educational/classification.php

    So the real question is, “How do buoyancy instabilities arise at all in flux tubes that are rising from deep in the convective zone to the surface?” “What is the perturbing event to flux tube?” “Is is some chaotic event?”

    I have a hypothesis on this flux tube buoyancy perturbation, a testable hypothesis. A hypothesis that makes predictions on what that perturbation event is and can be refuted or supported with hard data (observations) in the coming SC25’s rise in solar magnetic activity over the next decade. Maybe if I can get my act together and get a draft paper on the hypothesis ready for prime-time.

    • Such a plasma hypothesis could surely be tested in a fusion lab. The Trisops device from Dan Wells produced many commonly seen phenomena. The Z-pinch devices also.

  10. “Scientists have found evidence of a huge blast of radiation from the Sun that hit Earth more than 2,000 years ago. ”

    Wow! No sunblock either!

  11. Storms of this size probably happen fairly frequently but are not as often pointed directly at Earth. I recall a huge X class flare some time back that was estimated to have been as large as the Carrington event but it was pointed away from Earth and so had no impact here.

    • Not an expert, but read that it’s like the chance of a bullet fired at random hitting a small target. The firing of the bullet isn’t rare, but hitting a small target is.

  12. Not the first time this theory is put forward! I find quite fascinating the paper on the subject by LaViolette in 2011 “Evidence for a Solar Flare Cause of the Pleistocene Mass Extinction” https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/radiocarbon/article/evidence-for-a-solar-flare-cause-of-the-pleistocene-mass-extinction/799A4720B75245B4627AFE412661B3B6

    It may be wild speculation on the extinction cause, but the material evidences presented are quite interesting.

  13. Monster solar storm that hit Earth discovered in the past>

    Monster solar storm that hit Earth in the past, discovered (in the present) !

  14. One thing I find interesting in the figure is that the ice core signature for an event whose duration is measured in hours and minutes is spread over about 5 years. Not unexpected but it is a good example of some of the challenges of interpreting ice core data especially with any kind of quantitative measure.

  15. speculative but possible evidence
    Number of comments enquire about any evidence in ancient records.
    Ancient Greeks built number of temples to God Apollo around 600 BC and later.
    This paper
    https://academic.oup.com/astrogeo/article/47/1/1.14/258057
    speculates that orientation of particular two is inspired by aurora. Considering that latitude of Greece is 37-38 N only exceptionally strong aurora are visible. To build a temple to most loved God Apollo oriented north-south rather than more usual east-west there must have been number of exceptionally strong solar outbursts, if that indeed was guiding principle.

  16. “… around 600 BC and later.”
    That is approximately the same epoch referred to by the first chapter of Ezekiel, in the Hebrew Bible, that is, during the fifth year of exile of King Jeconiah. So, around 592 BC, five years into the Babylonian exile that can be accurately dated to 597 BC.

    4I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, 5and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was human, 6but each of them had four faces and four wings. 7Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. 8Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. All four of them had faces and wings, 9and the wings of one touched the wings of another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved.

    10Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. 11Such were their faces. They each had two wings spreading out upward, each wing touching that of the creature on either side; and each had two other wings covering its body. 12Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went. 13The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it. 14The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning.

    15As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. 16This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like topaz, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. 17As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not change direction as the creatures went. 18Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around.

    19When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose. 20Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. 21When the creatures moved, they also moved; when the creatures stood still, they also stood still; and when the creatures rose from the ground, the wheels rose along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.

    22Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked something like a vault, sparkling like crystal, and awesome. 23Under the vault their wings were stretched out one toward the other, and each had two wings covering its body. 24When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, b like the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings.

    https://biblehub.com/niv/ezekiel/1.htm

    This amazingly vivid imagery is describing something very dynamic in the sky that looked like four living creatures, accompanied by moving wheel-like objects. Is it possible that this imagery was somehow inspired by some spectacular celestial auroral phenomenon, witnessed in the north skies six decades earlier, and still fresh in the memory of Ezekiel’s elders?

      • The Greenland ice cores have better 14C resolution than generic dating of unknown objects, because the entire timeline has been synchronized with multiple calibration points, with claimed resolution of 0.75 yrs in this baseline. The results were also harmonized with blips in the 10Be and 36Cl isotopes, which have a much better resolution, 3 yrs and 6 yrs resp.
        https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/03/05/1815725116#Methods

        Ezekiel’s vision is entirely consistent with the phenomenology of very intense aurorae. And the memory of such phenomena can persist for decades. For example, here the 1859 Carrington storm caused visible aurorae in Australia, as far north as Queensland. Here is the recollection of that observation, as told to a newspaper reporter in 1909, roughly the same time frame involved with Ezekiel:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_storm_of_1859#Carrington_flare

        In 1909, an Australian gold miner C.F. Herbert retold his observations in a letter to The Daily News in Perth:
        I was gold-digging at Rokewood, about four miles from Rokewood township (Victoria). Myself and two mates looking out of the tent saw a great reflection in the southern heavens at about 7 o’clock p.m., and in about half an hour, a scene of almost unspeakable beauty presented itself, lights of every imaginable color were issuing from the southern heavens, one color fading away only to give place to another if possible more beautiful than the last, the streams mounting to the zenith, but always becoming a rich purple when reaching there, and always curling round, leaving a clear strip of sky, which may be described as four fingers held at arm’s length. The northern side from the zenith was also illuminated with beautiful colors, always curling round at the zenith, but were considered to be merely a reproduction of the southern display, as all colors south and north always corresponded. It was a sight never to be forgotten, and was considered at the time to be the greatest aurora recorded… The rationalist and pantheist saw nature in her most exquisite robes, recognising, the divine immanence, immutable law, cause, and effect. The superstitious and the fanatical had dire forebodings, and thought it a foreshadowing of Armageddon and final dissolution.[22]

  17. “The radiation may also pose a health risk for astronauts. And passengers and crew on commercial aircraft that fly at high altitudes and close to the poles…”
    Forget the radiation effects on health. When the flare blows out the electronics on board spacecraft/aircraft, none of these folks are going to land gracefully.

  18. What is common with this solar storm, the 775 AD event (4th Jan), and the Carrington event (28th August 1859), is a near simultaneous pair of inferior heliocentric conjunctions of the inner planets (2-4 hours apart), and with only minor vertical latitude in at least one of the conjunctions. For this storm it was on the 29th July 659 BC.
    Screen shot:
    https://snag.gy/TZgRJM.jpg

  19. OK, this pretty much confirms everything we know about Krypton and the origin and power o Superman. So, it checks out.

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