The Carrington Event: September 1st, 1859

Guest post by Paul Dorian,

[note, Sorry Paul I missed the proper date by a couple days~cr]

A modern solar flare recorded December 5, 2006, by the X-ray Imager onboard NOAA’s GOES-13 satellite. The flare was so intense that it actually damaged the instrument that took the picture. Researchers believe Carrington’s solar flare was much more energetic than this one.


The sun continues to be quiet with no visible sunspots during the last eleven days and it has been without sunspots 68% of the time this year which is slightly less than the 77% experienced during all of 2019. In fact, last year turned out to be the quietest year in terms of sunspots since 1913 with 281 spotless days as the solar minimum phase intensified from the year before. Back-to-back years of very high levels of spotlessness on the sun would certainly support the notion that this is indeed a noteworthy and deep solar minimum. Solar minimum represents the end of solar cycle #24 which featured the fewest number of sunspots since solar cycle 14 peaked in February 1906. Some of the predictions for solar cycle #25 suggest that it may peak in July 2025 and continue the trend of weakening solar cycles that began around 1980 when solar cycle 21 peaked in sunspot activity. Even weak solar cycles, however, can produce significant solar storms. In fact, it was this same time of year back in 1859 when a super solar storm – now known as the “Carrington Event” – took place during another weak solar cycle (#10).  The event has been named for the British astronomer, Richard Carrington, as he observed from his own private observatory the largest solar flare which caused a major coronal mass ejection (CME) to travel directly toward Earth.  

Recent studies have warned that these type of super solar storms may not be quite as rare as once thought (e.g., Hayakawa et al). Many previous studies of solar superstorms leaned heavily on Western Hemisphere accounts according to, omitting data from the Eastern Hemisphere. This skewed perceptions of the “Carrington Event” of 1859, highlighting its importance while causing other superstorms to be overlooked. A super storm of the same magnitude as the “Carrington Event” in today’s world would very likely have a much more damaging impact than it did in the 19th century potentially causing widespread power outages along with disruptions to navigation, air travel, banking, and all forms of digital communication.

Sunspots sketched by Richard Carrington on Sept. 1, 1859. Copyright: Royal Astronomical Society

The solar storm of September 1, 1859

Coming just a few months before the solar maximum of 1860, numerous sunspots began to appear on the surface of the sun on 28 August 1859 and were being observed in different parts of the world.  Just before noon on the cloudless morning of Thursday, September 1, 1859, 33-year-old astronomer Richard Carrington – widely acknowledged at the time to be England’s best – was in his own private observatory and, as he usually did on sunny days, he used his telescope to project an 11-inch wide image of the sun on a screen and carefully drew the sunspots that he saw. Suddenly, two brilliant beads of blinding white light appeared over the sunspots, intensified rapidly, and became kidney-shaped.  He realized that he was witnessing something unprecedented and left for about one minute to find another witness.  On returning within 60 seconds, he and his witness found that much had already subsided in that short time.

Circled areas on plot indicate locations that experienced the northern lights (auroras) during the “Carrington Event” of 1859

The next morning, Friday, September 2nd, 1859, when the CME arrived, it crashed into Earth’s magnetic field, causing the global bubble of magnetism that surrounds our planet to shake and quiver. The CME reached the Earth some 17.6 hours after the eruption which is much quicker than the normal journey time of 3 or 4 days as an earlier CME actually cleared the way of the ambient solar plasma for the second blast to move so quickly.  Rapidly moving fields induced enormous electric currents that surged through telegraph lines and disrupted communications.  In fact, telegraph systems all over Europe and North America went haywire and, in some cases, telegraph operators were literally shocked as sparks were flying and telegraph paper was often set on fire. Some systems actually continued to work despite being disconnected from their power supplies as aurora-induced electric currents still allowed messages to be transmitted.  Skies all over Earth erupted in red, green and purple auroras – even in tropical locations like Cuba, Jamaica, El Salvador, the Bahamas and Hawaii. The auroras were so bright over the Rocky Mountains that their glow awoke gold miners who began preparing breakfast because they thought it was morning. People in the northeastern US could read a newspaper by the aurora’s light.

On Saturday, September 3, 1859, the Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser reported, “Those who happened to be out late on Thursday night had an opportunity of witnessing another magnificent display of the auroral lights. The phenomenon was very similar to the display on Sunday night, though at times the light was, if possible, more brilliant, and the prismatic hues more varied and gorgeous. The light appeared to cover the whole firmament, apparently like a luminous cloud, through which the stars of the larger magnitude indistinctly shone. The light was greater than that of the moon at its full, but had an indescribable softness and delicacy that seemed to envelop everything upon which it rested. Between 12 and 1 o’clock, when the display was at its full brilliancy, the quiet streets of the city resting under this strange light, presented a beautiful as well as singular appearance.”

Today’s view of the “Carrington Event”

Back in the 19th century there were no X-ray satellites or radio telescopes and no one knew solar flares existed until that September morning.  “What Carrington saw was a white-light solar flare—a magnetic explosion on the sun,” explains David Hathaway, solar physics team lead at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “It’s rare that one can actually see the brightening of the solar surface,” says Hathaway. “It takes a lot of energy to heat up the surface of the sun!”  The explosion witnessed by Carrington produced not only a surge of visible light, but also a mammoth cloud of charged particles and detached magnetic loops—a “CME”—and hurled that cloud directly toward Earth. Most experts today regard the “Carrington Event” of 1859 as one of the most powerful geomagnetic storms in recorded history. However, new findings suggest that it may be something that occurs more frequently than previously thought and perhaps more of an imminent threat to modern society.

Sunspot drawings by German astronomer Heinrich Schwabe on 27 August (left), 1 September (center), and close‐up figure of 1 September (right), reproduced from RAS MS Schwabe 31 (p. 131 and p. 136; Image courtesy of the Royal Astronomical Society, Hayakawa et al. Circles in the upper halves correspond to the solar disk, on which the sunspots are drawn with the numbers.

Impact on today’s world

Today we know that solar flares happen frequently, especially during solar sunspot maximums.  In today’s world, electronic technologies have become embedded into everyday life and are, of course, quite vulnerable to solar activity. Power lines, long-distance telephone cables, radar, cell phones, GPS, and satellites – all could be significantly affected by an event like this one.  In other words, the world’s high-tech infrastructure could grind to a halt disrupting daily activities from purchasing a gallon gas to using the Internet.

Of particular concern is the fear about what this kind of solar storm could do to the electrical grid since power surges caused by solar particles can blow out giant transformers.  If numerous transformers happened to be destroyed at once, it would likely take a painfully long time to replace them.  The eastern US is especially vulnerable since the power infrastructure is highly interconnected so that failures in one location could cause failures in other regions. One long-term solution to this vulnerability would be to rebuild the aging power grid to be less susceptible to solar disruptions.

Final thoughts

On the positive side, there is comfort in the fact that observations of the sun in today’s world are a constant with a fleet of spacecraft in position to monitor the sun and gather data on solar flares. Also, there is better forecasting today and solar scientists could give some sort of warning as to when solar flares might appear and whether a given storm is pointed at Earth.  Improved forecasting can allow for mitigating actions to be taken since the most damaging emissions travel slowly enough to be detected by satellites well before the particles strike the Earth.  For example, power companies could protect valuable transformers by taking them offline before a solar storm strikes.  One thing is certain, we should be prepared for another massive solar storm of the magnitude of the “Carrington Event” of 1859 as new information suggests these have likely been occurring much more often than previously thought.

Meteorologist Paul Dorian
Perspecta, Inc.

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September 3, 2020 6:20 pm

We also are experiencing a continuing reduction in the Earth’s magnetic field as well as both magnetic poles moving out of the polar regions. A possible magnetic pole flip. We live in an electric universe which influences the weather, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and all kinds of environmental inputs.

Reply to  rbabcock
September 3, 2020 6:50 pm

We live in an electric universe
We actually live in a MAGNETIC universe. Electric currents are shorted out very \quickly, while magnetic structures can live forever.
The standard reference to the Carrington Event is our review paper:

Reply to  Leif Svalgaard
September 3, 2020 7:34 pm

Basic physics for you both, magnetic and electric fields extend from any point source to everywhere in the universe. Trying to assert one is more important in the universe is the height of science stupidity and says more about the posters grasp on physics.

Reply to  LdB
September 3, 2020 8:06 pm

If you read my comment, you will note that I said electric CURRENTS. A current flows because there is a separation of opposite charges thereby removing the separation [the current shorts out]. This is a very efficient process that quickly removes the current. This has nothing to do with which is more ‘important’. And BTW, electric fields do not extend to ‘everywhere’, but rather go from one charge ending on another [opposite] charge, usually very nearby.

Reply to  Leif Svalgaard
September 3, 2020 11:00 pm

First what does electric current have to do with the statement “We live in an electric universe” and the description he gave.

Second you need to go and do a modern physics course ye old classical physics died 125 years ago. Ye ole classical field theory had it the electric field starts at one point and ends at another and it leads to stupidity with how they interact. We know know he field from a charged particle exists at all points in the universe that is why you can entangle a charge particle and drag it around the universe with it linked to it’s pair .. it’s basic modern physics 101.

The 10 second version is the basic quantum fields exist at every point in the universe and every point in space can have various spins imparted on them which give them there behaviour .. wikipedia has a reasonable gif to illustrate spin 1.
comment image
To do that trick the field you see has to be present across the entire universe. Classical physics field is just the dumbed down observational you see from a more complex system.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  LdB
September 3, 2020 8:14 pm

I have yet to be shocked by any of the bar magnets on my refrigerator.
Yet there they stick like glue.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 3, 2020 8:40 pm

I have yet to be shocked by any of the bar magnets on my refrigerator.
You can get shocked by electric currents because they flow from one charge to an opposite charge and do can short themselves out giving you a nasty shock, but there are no magnetic charges so magnetic fields cannot ‘short’ out, hence no shocks.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 3, 2020 9:03 pm

That was my point to LdB. The magnetic field can exist without a current flow and still do it’s “magic.” “Magic” is the best description of that to Arts Majors.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 3, 2020 11:13 pm

So describe how an an atom works because apparently electric fields always have to have currents … you know an atom has protons(+) and electrons(-) right.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 3, 2020 11:22 pm

Perhaps start by explaining why the electrons don’t just collapse to the protons.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 3, 2020 11:51 pm

So describe how an an atom works
You can find that in any elementary physics textbook

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 4, 2020 12:06 am

Well the yee old classic physics book you will read will probably have the the old bohr model which is wrong. The point being electric fields in an atom exist for as long as the life of the an atom. They can last every bit as long as a magnetic field and there two fields are inter-related and very similar. To call one more important than the other is ridiculous every field is important even the newly discovered one the higgs.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 4, 2020 7:07 am

Electrons in a swarm around a nucleus, are not a current. Current is free electrons flowing from a negative charge to a positive charge.

William Astley
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 4, 2020 2:09 pm

Here is something interesting. Is the earth’s magnetic field due to the permanent magnetic effect? No.

The earth’s liquid core temperature is hotter than the curie temperature of iron.

Electromagnetics which is a subset of atomic physics requires that there must be an electric current caused by electrons moving to create the earth’s magnetic field.

Does anyone dispute that statement?

The geomagnetic field can only change if there is a change in whatever creates the electric currents that creates the earth’s magnetic field.

Geomagnetic specialists have found the geomagnetic field has in the past changed abruptly and periodically for unknown reasons.

There is no physical explanation as to what could cause the geomagnetic field to suddenly change again and again and again.

In fact there is a sudden very large unexplained change to the geomagnetic field.

In the 1990s the north geomagnetic pole drift speed increased by a factor of 5.

In the geomagnetic paleo record there is evidence of massive unexplained changes in the geomagnetic field with a periodicity of 100,000 and 30,000 years where the geomagnetic intensity drop also increased by a factor 5 to 10.

These abrupt changes to the geomagnetic field correlate with abrupt changes in the climate.

And it is known that when the geomagnetic field changes the earth’s climate also changes.

Abrupt climate change does not cause a change in electron flow in the earth to change the geomagnetic field.

Response to Comment on “Are there connections between Earth’s magnetic field and climate?, Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 253, 328–339, 2007” by Bard, E., and Delaygue, M., Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., in press, 2007

Also, we wish to recall that evidence of a correlation between archeomagnetic jerks and
cooling events (in a region extending from the eastern North Atlantic to the Middle East) now covers a period of 5 millenia and involves 10 events (see f.i. Figure 1 of Gallet and Genevey, 2007).
The climatic record uses a combination of results from Bond et al (2001), history of Swiss glaciers (Holzhauser et al, 2005) and historical accounts reviewed by Le Roy Ladurie (2004). Recent high-resolution paleomagnetic records (e.g. Snowball and Sandgren, 2004; St-Onge et al., 2003) and global geomagnetic field modeling (Korte and Constable, 2006) support the idea that part of the centennial-scale fluctuations in 14C production may have been influenced by previously unmodeled rapid dipole field variations.

In any case, the relationship between climate, the Sun and the geomagnetic field could be more complex than previously imagined.

And the previous points allow the possibility for some connection between the geomagnetic field and
climate over these time scales.

Evidence for rapid geomagnetic field intensity variations in Western Europe over the past 800 years from new French archeointensity data

The finding that the geomagnetic field suddenly and cyclically drops intensity by a factor of 5 to 10 was not expected and does not have an explanation.

Is the geodynamo process intrinsically unstable?

Recent palaeomagnetic studies suggest that excursions of the geomagnetic field, during which the intensity drops suddenly by a factor of 5 to 10 and the local direction changes dramatically, are more common than previously expected. The `normal’ state of the geomagnetic field, dominated by an axial dipole, seems to be interrupted every 30 to 100 kyr; it may not therefore be as stable as we thought…..

…How can the geomagnetic field change so rapidly and dramatically? Can slight variations of the geomagnetic field affect the dynamics of core convection significantly? If so, is the geodynamo process intrinsically unstable?

What Caused Recent Acceleration of the North Magnetic Pole Drift?

The north magnetic pole (NMP) is the point at the Earth’s surface where the geomagnetic field is directed vertically downward. It drifts in time as a result of core convection, which sustains the Earth’s main magnetic field through the geodynamo process.

During the 1990s the NMP drift speed suddenly increased from 15 kilometers per year at the start of the decade to 55 kilometers per year by the decade’s end.

This acceleration was all the more surprising given that the NMP drift speed had remained less than 15 kilometers per year over the previous 150 years of observation. Why did NMP drift accelerate in the 1990s?

Pat from kerbob
Reply to  LdB
September 3, 2020 9:10 pm

Kind of a nasty comment for no reason?

Rainer Bensch
Reply to  Pat from kerbob
September 4, 2020 2:55 am

Yeah, and hand waving with his QM flag as if it replaces classic physics. Even AR didn’t replace Newtons model. It just made some minor corrections for the extremes.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Pat from kerbob
September 4, 2020 3:30 am

Yes, agreed, Pat.

Sadly in today’s world, everything BUT civil discourse is the norm, and the concept of shame for disgraceful behavior is an anachronism.

Doug Huffman
Reply to  Leif Svalgaard
September 4, 2020 4:26 am

God Bless the ever tolerant and unflappable Dr. Svalgaard. I am sure that is a benefit of years at the blackboard.

Reply to  rbabcock
September 4, 2020 4:14 am

“We live in an electric universe”

Electric and magnetic fields are not independent entities, and in fact transform to each other according to the frame of reference. Here is what Einstein had to say about this in 1905:

It is known that Maxwell’s electrodynamics – as usually understood at the present time – when applied to moving bodies, leads to asymmetries which do not appear to be inherent in the phenomena. Take, for example, the reciprocal electrodynamic action of a magnet and a conductor. The observable phenomenon here depends only on the relative motion of the conductor and the magnet, whereas the customary view draws a sharp distinction between the two cases in which either the one or the other of these bodies is in motion. For if the magnet is in motion and the conductor at rest, there arises in the neighborhood of the magnet an electric field with a certain definite energy, producing a current at the places where parts of the conductor are situated. But if the magnet is stationary and the conductor in motion, no electric field arises in the neighborhood of the magnet. In the conductor, however, we find an electromotive force, to which in itself there is no corresponding energy, but which gives rise – assuming equality of relative motion in the two cases discussed – to electric currents of the same path and intensity as those produced by the electric forces in the former case.

— A. Einstein, On the electrodynamics of moving bodies (1905)

Reply to  rbabcock
September 4, 2020 5:23 am

For most people, and I include MOST, “electric universe” carries a meaning they can visualize more than “magnetic universe”. For us on Earth, what matters most are all the particles coming at us from the Sun, the Galaxy and the Universe along with photons of all different energy levels. These include positive, negative and no charged particles.

They interact with atoms and molecules in the atmosphere and inside the Earth itself causing all kinds of mischief. When the Sun goes quiet the level of protection goes down and the bombardment goes up. It affects O3 generation, cloud nucleation, magma heating and even the amount of lightning. As the solar system rotates around the Milky Way it periodically passes through clouds of dust and plasma which also effects us. We still have a lot to learn on cause and effect of all this.

But charged particles do follow magnetic lines so there is that component as well. The stronger the magnetic field, the stronger the effect. It’s all one big happy family.

September 3, 2020 6:27 pm

We see the warnings of a Carrington event often … but I often wonder of the severity of the true dangers.

First, let’s look at 19th century technology of telegraphs. Telegraph systems with 20+ miles of wire lacking circuit breakers and over voltage protection devices.

Now let’s look at 21st century technology. Much larger systems, circuit breakers, and over voltage protection devices exist everywhere from the top systems down to the power strip under your desk.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but I say “meh.”

Reply to  Lil-Mike
September 3, 2020 7:12 pm

Yep. link There are bigger things to worry about than a Carrington event. That said, we won’t actually know for sure until it happens.

If you see 10 troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you and you have to battle with only one of them. Calvin Coolidge

I’m not saying that being prepared is a bad idea but I am saying that trying to prepare for everything keeps you from doing anything.

Reply to  Lil-Mike
September 3, 2020 8:49 pm

I agree. The Carrington event did very little actual damage. Let’s not invent imaginary horrors.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  pochas94
September 3, 2020 9:31 pm

As for “Let’s not invent imaginary horrors”, I offer the 1700 Cascadia earthquake that did very little damage to humans save probably a few thousand native villages set close to the shoreline of what is today Washington State and Canada’s coastal British Columbia.

That monster quake took place at about 21:00 Pacific Time on January 26, 1700. No European witnessed that event to record it to history. But we know it dropped the coastline dozens of feet in places in 3 minutes of intense shaking. Then within 30 minutes of that the 10+ meter tsunami waves washed away every there trying in the dark of night.
More studies of undersea avalanches going back 10,000+ years in deep marine canyons of that coastline tells us these mega-quakes hit the Cascadia-Juan de Fuca subduction zone every 300-800 years. Washington, Oregon, and B.C. are coming due for the next one. That is not an imaginary horror just because no one recorded it the last time it happened.

There was no “infrastructure then, but there certainly is now 320 years later, with tens of millions of inhabitants deeply dependent on that infrastructure for survival.

BTW: Washington State DNR just released a “cool” new simulation done by NOAA that shows how that tsunami wave would hit Washington State Olympia peninsula and travel through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and into Puget Sound, hitting Seattle’s devastated shoreline in about 2 hours after the megaquake.

Jean Parisot
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 4, 2020 1:38 pm

Or an ArkStorm, someone at the USGS has nice job putting together these scenarios.

Jean Parisot
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 4, 2020 1:38 pm

Or an ArkStorm, someone at the USGS has nice job putting together these scenarios.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 4, 2020 5:37 pm

“washed away every there trying in the dark of night.”

In English please.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Jeff Alberts
September 4, 2020 8:02 pm

“washed away every one there trying to dig out from the Earthquake in the dark of the night.”

I started an edit on that part and got side-tracked and forgot to come back to clean it up. The “comment” box is small, only 9 lines. So long posts require lots of scrolling up and down to proof read.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Lil-Mike
September 3, 2020 8:55 pm

They didn’t have electrical power distribution systems in 1859, only telegraph wires.
Today we have high voltage transmissions lines running hundreds of miles between substations. That is plenty of length for an induced current to “spike” transformers and blow them up. Even if it just trips breakers and circuit power-protection devices, it can take down an entire regional grids in seconds of cascading failures.

Quebec got hammered by one in 1989.

“The March 1989 geomagnetic storm occurred as part of severe to extreme solar storms during early to mid March 1989, the most notable being a geomagnetic storm that struck Earth on March 13. This geomagnetic storm caused a nine-hour outage of Hydro-Québec’s electricity transmission system. The onset time was exceptionally rapid.[1] Other historically significant solar storms occurred later in 1989, during a very active period of solar cycle 22.”

read more:

Pat from kerbob
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 3, 2020 9:16 pm

Not to be annoying but as a sparky, currents aren’t induced
Voltage is induced which then allows current to flow
Voltage is analogous to water pressure
Current is flow

The charged plasma passing by earths magnetic field introduces Lenz’s law

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Pat from kerbob
September 3, 2020 9:56 pm

As a “sparky,” you should know it’s the current that kills, not the voltage potential.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Pat from kerbob
September 3, 2020 10:17 pm

Also, since you cite it:
“Lenz’s law
a law stating that the direction of an induced current is always such as to oppose the change in the circuit or the magnetic field that produces it.”

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 5, 2020 7:07 pm

Pat is correct. It is voltage that is induced and current happens as a result. They don’t put signs ” Danger – High Voltage ” near sub stations for nothing so voltage does kill. Just because Lenz stated something in 1834 doesn’t mean it is correct. Michael Faraday found that voltage was induced not current. Current is misused a lot – it is a rate of flow of electric charged particles, mainly electrons and positrons being bumped to higher energy levels by interaction with photons. Voltage is a flow of photons and they are what get inducted across space and how transformers increase and decrease voltage.

Don K
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 4, 2020 1:39 am

All true enough Joel. But distribution systems are designed to withstand lightning strikes whose effects are similar to those anticipated from a CME in some ways. And they do so very well in general although a direct strike on a transformer can destroy it rather spectacularly. Semiconductor based electronics OTOH tend not to do all that well when confronted with lightning strokes very nearby. We’re becoming very dependent on semiconductor based electronics.

Maybe we’re looking at the wrong hazard(s)?

Reply to  Don K
September 4, 2020 7:13 am

The induced voltage on a wire that’s only a few inches long would be in the micro-volt or less range.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 4, 2020 7:11 am

Joel, that would only be true if there was no protection built into the system.
There is protection and it is more than adequate to handle a Carrington event.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  MarkW
September 4, 2020 12:15 pm

A Lightning stroke hitting a line or substation would be a single event affecting probably only one line and substation in that time frame for the reset to occur.
But the implication of a global or hemisphere level geomagnetic storm would be that it affects multiple nodes near simultaneously in the grid.
So the protection systems may protect the big transformers at one site, but multiple substations could be near simultaneously affected. The ensuing tripping off at multiple substations could easily result in rapid cascading load-shedding as the grid protects itself from overloading.
The grid operator may have to wait 12-24 hours for the peak of geomagnetic storm to abate before trying to boot-start the grid again, section by section.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 4, 2020 6:29 pm

A lightning strike causes the over voltage protection to kick in and protect the line. After a few seconds, the line reconnects and business goes on.
Yes, a Carrington event would effect everything, however there are circuit breakers and such built into the entire system. Millions of them all over the planet.
Each one taking care of it’s little piece of the grid.

No reason to worry.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 4, 2020 8:11 pm

It’s called cascading failure scenario. Non-linear. Chaotic. What starts as just 2 or 3 substations tripping off line for a few seconds causes others to load shed to protect from overload. A cascade of failures ensues. There are computer models of this.

Open Access
Published: 17 May 2018
“Dynamically induced cascading failures in power grids”

Benjamin Schäfer, Dirk Witthaut, Marc Timme & Vito Latora
Nature Communications volume 9, Article number: 1975 (2018)
“Summing up, while the overall blackout takes place over minutes, critical damage is done within seconds due to line failures.”

Reply to  Lil-Mike
September 4, 2020 12:45 am

I am curious about the “51 and 52” incidents mentioned in the newspaper. We’re they also caused by solar flares of similar magnitude?

Doug Huffman
Reply to  Lil-Mike
September 4, 2020 4:31 am

I agree, Meh.

See David Hathaway’s ‘EMP Hoax’. At just the right level for this crowd.


“If it was so easy then everyone might do it.”

Reply to  Lil-Mike
September 4, 2020 9:53 am

By coincidence I happen to have just posted a thorough debunking on my own blog:

“It’s not a giant electrical fist from the sun smashing civilization, it’s a narrow vulnerability in high voltage transformers, and its danger can be averted with even modest care.”

Curious George
September 3, 2020 6:32 pm

“new information suggests these [storms] have likely been occurring much more often than previously thought.”
Any support for that?

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Curious George
September 3, 2020 8:20 pm

The sun seems to give off several of these level of CME-X class flares events every cycle. But it also requires Earth to be in their direct path. Stereo-A and Stereo-B when it was working, give us clear views of the sun we can’t see from Earth to watch big CME’s lift away from the solar corona. From those perspectives, we know there was a Carrington level CME event in 2012 that missed us.

Reply to  Curious George
September 3, 2020 9:38 pm
Curious George
Reply to  Alan
September 4, 2020 7:29 am

1921 was not previously thought?

September 3, 2020 7:17 pm

Just a small puzzle (hardly worth writing, I know.)
On the reproduction of Richard Carrington’s drawing of the sunspots there is an indication of directions: a cross with N at the top and S at the bottom. North and South, respectively, I imagine. However, where I would expect to see E and W are the letters F and P. Can anyone suggest what words they represent?

Reply to  OldCynic
September 3, 2020 8:53 pm

F = Following [=East]
P = Preceding [=West]
in the sense of solar rotation.
East and West are a bit ambiguous. Are they seen form the sun or from the earth? F and P are clear.

Doc Chuck
Reply to  OldCynic
September 3, 2020 9:30 pm

I suspect that P is preceding and F is following parts of the rotating solar surface with respect to the sunspot location.

Reply to  Doc Chuck
September 4, 2020 1:19 am

Leif, Doc; thank you very much.

September 3, 2020 7:34 pm

Of note, one of the nights during the Union attempt to take Fredericksburg during the Civil War on december 13, 1862, there were strong auroras visible in that city. That city is in Virginia. It appears that strong solar storms were not restricted to 1859 at that point in time.

Reply to  shrnfr
September 4, 2020 12:28 pm

The paper mentions telegraph issues in 1851 and 1852. Why are these ignored?

Joel O'Bryan
September 3, 2020 8:25 pm

Some of the quotes on Dr. Hathaway are dated. He left MSFC 5-6 years ago moved out to California IIRC.

Joel O'Bryan
September 3, 2020 10:14 pm

Another note I’d like to make. This is the kind of Space Weather stuff that NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) was originally setup to study in the 1960’s. Now they mostly spend their days and dollars running climate computer animations of contrived CO2 scenarios on GHG warming on supercomputers because James Hansen re-directed GISS efforts in the 1980’s to the climate cash cow. Apparently that paid the bills better than actually doing the very hard and tedious actual science of Space Weather phenomenon. Someone at NASA HQ needs to correct Hansen’s re-direct and put GISS right or eliminate its funding in toto, IMHO.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 4, 2020 4:59 am

Right, and GISS keeps referencing NOAA as data source, for all that CO2 stuff. NOAA was whistleblown by Dr. Bates, and still they carry on.

September 4, 2020 12:54 am

The point being electric fields in an atom exist for as long as the life of the an atom.
But are confined to the atom and do not extend away from the atom.
BTW, there are a lot of modern textbooks that are not wrong. You can learn a lot from them.
If you want to know more about magnetic and electric fields in the universe, I can recommend “Conversations on Electric and Magnetic Fields in the Cosmos’ by Eugene Parker:

Reply to  Leif Svalgaard
September 4, 2020 5:44 am

From the eBook (I do not have it), :
The dynamics he describes represents the Maxwell stresses of the magnetic field working against the pressure and inertia of the bulk motion of ionized gases, characterized in terms of the magnetic field and gas velocity. Parker shows how this dynamic interaction cannot be fully expressed in terms of the electric current and electric field.

Just curious, does he mean geometry and topology?

Reply to  Leif Svalgaard
September 6, 2020 12:54 am

Magnetic fields are primordial and are everywhere. Electric fields are not: there is no electric field in the rest frame of a plasma.

a happy little debunker
September 4, 2020 3:12 am

The way 2020 is unfolding – prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
I have a generator, m/cycle and key electronics in my faraday cage (a lined shipping container).

September 4, 2020 3:23 am

!850s were years of progress in science and technology. In July 1858 Darwin gave a lecture on evolution to the Linnean Society of London, as a precursor to publishing of the ‘On the Origin of Species’. At his time battle was raging between Darwin and at the time outstanding naturalist and fossils expert Sir Richard Owen, who was adviser on design and construction of life size dinosaurs’ models for the S. London’s Crystal Palace dinosaur park. At this time Richard Carrington lived and worked just few miles further south at Redhill in Surrey, and no doubt he visited the ‘the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs’ (which was great attraction for the Victorian Londoners) on his way back home from the Royal Astronomical Society. Victorians were also keen on lampooning everyone and everything through hilarious cartoons; was Carrington one of them?
Here is the famous image (enlarged) that Carrington submitted to the RAS

Reply to  Vuk
September 4, 2020 6:35 am

On more serious note:
Carrington was told of occurrence of the magnetic storm next day but he avoided connecting it with the solar flare he observed previous day, suggesting it could have been a coincidence. “One swallow does not make a summer” he wrote in his subsequent description of the solar flare he observed.
The Carrington’s description as submitted to the November (1859) meeting of the RAS is available here :

September 4, 2020 4:21 am

In fact, it was this same time of year back in 1859 when a super solar storm – now known as the “Carrington Event” – took place during another weak solar cycle (#10).

The time of the year at Earth is irrelevant to the Sun.

September 4, 2020 4:41 am

There is no evidence that superstorms happen more frequently than thought. The increase in solar protons must leave a mark as a change in cosmogenic isotopes, and such mark has been found for 774 AD, over a millennium before the Carrington event.

“The statistics from Kepler imply that solar-type stars with 25-day periods will produce a superflare (by Notsu’s definition) every 500 to 600 years.”
But then the flare has to hit the Earth and not go in other direction.
Battersby, S. (2019). Core Concept: What are the chances of a hazardous solar superflare?. PNAS, 116(47), 23368.

It amazes me why so many people want to be scared silly by things that have such a low probability.

Reply to  Javier
September 4, 2020 9:30 pm

“The statistics from Kepler imply that solar-type stars with 25-day periods will produce a superflare (by Notsu’s definition) every 500 to 600 years.”
But then the flare has to hit the Earth and not go in other direction.
Battersby, S. (2019). Core Concept: What are the chances of a hazardous solar superflare?”

The above suggests the Carrington event couldn’t have been a “superflare” AND that ONLY “superflares” are hazardous. I’m surprised then that the US military has been worrying about such minor events nuclear EMP attacks, and that they guard their research on shielding so jealously that it’s impossible to buy a laptop protected against this puny non-hazardous phenomenon.

September 4, 2020 5:22 am

I learn something new every day,
today I learnt 6 amazing things just during lunch break.
Now changing all my drawings to have compass points of N. F. S. P just to confuse peoples

September 4, 2020 5:39 am

Besides the dramatic CME, super-flares, there are the nanoflares which may explain the super heated Corona.

Maybe these nanoflare “campfires” are more important? Eugene Parker proposed such processes, and oddly the NASA Parker Probe cannot image them while the ESA probe can?

Bob Weber
September 4, 2020 6:39 am

Great article Paul Dorian, inspired the imagination knowing it will happen again…

The sun continues to be quiet with no visible sunspots during the last eleven days and it has been without sunspots 68% of the time this year which is slightly less than the 77% experienced during all of 2019. In fact, last year turned out to be the quietest year in terms of sunspots since 1913 with 281 spotless days as the solar minimum phase intensified from the year before. Back-to-back years of very high levels of spotlessness on the sun would certainly support the notion that this is indeed a noteworthy and deep solar minimum.

Today SC24 needs 50 more spotless days to exceed SC23 ranking it #5, behind the last centennial minimum and Dalton minimum cycles. If it happens during the 118 days this year, 2020 will rank no lower than #19, and could theoretically reach the top ten in spotless days since 1818.

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Along with sun-climate R&D, my gig includes “electric, magnetic, electromagnetic” events and effects, so I made an app to collect and display the latest solar/geomagnetic data in an uploaded image, link available at my name. Here’s an example of such an event two years ago.

“Forecasters did not see this coming.” said spaceweather`com two years ago when a surprise G3 magnetic storm hit, that created telluric currents, some that might have disrupted power systems in LA.

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Bob Weber
Reply to  Bob Weber
September 4, 2020 7:29 am

Corrections: SC24/25 minimum for SC24 and SC23/24 minimum for SC23.

From Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER)

What is the ring current, and why does an increase in ring current produce negative Dst values?

The ring current is a westward flowing ion current (mostly protons) in the equatorial plane at a distance of about 3-5 Earth radii. Because of the obvious visual effects, most people who live in mid- to high-latitude regions are familiar with the fact that increases in solar activity can enhance the aurora. Similarly, solar flares or coronal mass ejections inject additional particles into the ionospheric ring current.

Consider the typical analogy of the Earth’s magnetic field to a bar magnet. The field lines of the magnet leave its north pole (which is near the geographic south pole), curve around past the equator, then enter at its south pole (near geographic north). If this seems counter-intuitive, recall that the north pole of a compass points at the geomagnetic south pole, so the north/south labelling convention comes from the compass needle, not the Earth itself. The field lines from Earth’s internal magnetic field thus point northward near the equatorial plane. The ring current also induces its own magnetic field just like the electromagnet in an electric motor. The direction of the field inside the ring is determined by the “right-hand-rule”: imagine a right hand with the palm facing a globe and fingers pointing westward, then the thumb is pointing down or southward against the Earth’s dipole field. The magnitude of the total field then decreases when the current in the ring increases, and this is what is reported as the Dst index.

Recently the Dst index reported from Japan (in red) took a dive, which made me curious, and it looks like the jump in >2MeV electron fluence is the reason:

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The 2003 Halloween event was classified a “superstorm”, whereas the example I showed above was an “intense storm”. The 1989 storm and the Carrington event were well past superstorm intensity.

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Other sources have the Carrington event at -850nT.

From <a href=<wikipedia:

In June 2013, a joint venture from researchers at Lloyd’s of London and Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER) in the United States used data from the Carrington Event to estimate the cost of a similar event in the present to the U.S. alone at $0.6–2.6 trillion,[2] which at the time equated to roughly 3.6% to 15.5% of annual GDP.

Seven years later you can at least double that estimate.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Bob Weber
September 4, 2020 8:09 am

Hey, Bob, you need to communicate this info the Joe Biden and AOC as soon as possible. I mean this is great, noteworthy alarmist stuff!

I am sure they can somehow work this into things-related-to-“climate” that must be controlled under the GND plan, no matter the cost.

And recall that we have, now, less than 11 years to save the world. The US absolutely must prevent another Carrington Event-like CME from impacting Earth any time in the future.

“So let it be written. So let it be done.”—Pharaoh, in the movie The Ten Commandments

Bob Weber
Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
September 4, 2020 8:40 am

Gordon, joking aside, if I were to communicate anything to Joe Biden and AOC it would be the sun controls the climate absolutely – and CO2. The GND is based on the faulty premise that human emissions are driving global CO2 and temperature rise, when in fact they are unrelated.

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Don’t shut down the economy over a false premise, which also includes the notion alternatives are capable of replacing baseload power generation.

Here’s my suggestion to the congressional climate crowd: make a simple demonstration project, like running the entire DC subway system on solar panels and windmills, or start simpler, like a single DC subway escalator. If you can manage to make an escalator or entire system work 24/7 reliably without baseload, then we can talk about doing more, until that the GND is pie-in-the-sky at the most basic level.

Jim Hughes
September 4, 2020 6:44 am

A Carrington Event would not be good for the satellite community. As for another like event. It makes sense that we would see something similar when we come out of this extended lull. My guess would be another 15-20 years down the road.

Gordon A. Dressler
September 4, 2020 7:16 am

Paul Dorian or ctm:

Please note that the last graphic in the above article appears to have the left and right drawings transposed, contrary to what the caption underneath states. I do believe the 27 August drawing in the one on the right, and the closeup drawing of 1 Sept (a closeup of the sunspot grouping No. 143 in the middle drawing) is the one on the left.

A minor nit for an overall interesting and informative article.

Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
September 4, 2020 9:41 am

It is the same sunspot group, while the Schwabe’s drawing was made on Aug. 27, 1859. The group must evolved to a considerable degree (see images in the link below) which motivate me to write above comment ( September 4, 2020 at 3:23 am).
Tony Philips from NASA published similar article 3-4 days ago.

September 4, 2020 7:31 am

I’ll take the Carrington Event and you can have the Betelgeuse daily.

Ulric Lyons
September 4, 2020 10:33 am

This is the root of the 5th Dec 2006 X-flare and proton storm, 1.5 Carrington rotations earlier on 25th Oct 2006. I know the reason for the delay.

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Chris Norman
September 5, 2020 10:41 am

Keep your books.

B. Kindseth
September 5, 2020 5:55 pm

Is there anything that can be done to protect our life as we know it with all of our electronic conveniences, or are we doomed?

Tom Abbott
September 7, 2020 6:41 am

A commission established by the U.S. government to study Electro-Magnetic Pulses and the U.S. electrical system came to the conclusion in 2018, that it would cost about $3 billion to protect the U.S. electrical grid from an EMP incident.

The money would go toward building replacement transformers and other electrical equipment that would be stored until needed, as the problem with some of this equipment is it takes a long time to build some of these from scatch.

The holdup for getting this done is determining who is going to pay for it, the electric companies or the U.S. govenment.

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