The Carrington Event (1859) will soon repeat itself?

The Carrington Event (1859) will soon repeat itself.

Commentaries and additions by Dr. Robert Gorter, MD, PhD.

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

May 15th, 2023


The Carrington Event was the most intense geomagnetic storm in recorded history, peaking from 1 to 2 September 1859 during solar cycle #10. It created strong auroral displays that were reported globally[1] and caused sparking and even fires in multiple telegraph stations. The geomagnetic storm was most likely the result of a coronal mass ejection (CME) from the Sun colliding with Earth’s magnetosphere.[2]


Sunspots of 1 September 1859, as sketched by Richard Carrington. A and B mark the initial positions of an intensely bright event, which moved over the course of five minutes to C and D before disappearing.

The geomagnetic storm was associated with a very bright solar flare on 1 September 1859. It was observed and recorded independently by British astronomers Richard Christopher Carrington and Richard Hodgson—the first records of a solar flare.

A geomagnetic storm of this magnitude occurring today would cause widespread electrical disruptions, blackouts, and damage due to extended outages of the electrical power grid.[3][4][5]


The Carrington Event took place a few months before the solar maximum, a period of elevated solar activity, of solar cycle #10.

Geomagnetic storm


The July 2012, solar storm, as photographed by STEREO, was a CME of comparable strength to the one which is thought to have struck the Earth during the 1859 Carrington Event.

On 1–2 September 1859, one of the largest geomagnetic storms (as recorded by ground-based magnetometers) occurred.[6] Estimates of the storm strength (Dst) range from −0.80 to −1.75 µT.[7]

The geomagnetic storm is thought to have been initiated by a major CME that traveled directly toward Earth, taking 17.6 hours to make the 150-million-kilometer (93×106 mi) journey. Typical CMEs take several days to arrive at Earth, but it is believed that the relatively high speed of this CME was made possible by a prior CME, perhaps the cause of the large aurora event on 29 August that “cleared the way” of ambient solar wind plasma for the Carrington Event.[8]

Associated solar flare

Just before noon on 1 September, the English amateur astronomers Richard Christopher Carrington and Richard Hodgson independently recorded the earliest observations of a solar flare.[8] Carrington and Hodgson compiled independent reports which were published side by side in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and exhibited their drawings of the event at the November 1859 meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society.[9][10]

Because of a geomagnetic solar flare effect (a “magnetic crochet”)[11] observed in the Kew Observatory magnetometer record by Scottish physicist Balfour Stewart, and a geomagnetic storm observed the following day, Carrington suspected a solar-terrestrial connection.[12] Worldwide reports of the effects of the geomagnetic storm of 1859 were compiled and published by American mathematician Elias Loomis, which supports the observations of Carrington and Stewart.[13]




Aurora during a geomagnetic storm that was most likely caused by a coronal mass ejection from the Sun on 24 May 2010, taken from the International Space Station

Auroras were seen around the world, those in the northern hemisphere as far south as the Caribbean. The aurora over the Rocky Mountains in the United States was so bright that the glow woke gold miners, who began preparing breakfast because they thought it was morning.[8] People in the Northeastern United States could read a newspaper by the aurora’s light.[14] The aurora was visible from the poles to low latitude areas such as south-central Mexico,[15][16] QueenslandCubaHawaii,[17] southern Japan and China,[18] and even at lower latitudes very close to the equator, such as in Colombia.[19]


On the surface of the sun, there are giant eruptions that send charged particles into space. When these particles come into contact with the magnetic field of the Earth, this can have dangerous consequences.

A magnetic storm of sufficient strength can disable all modern technologies that we rely on every day. The strongest solar storms can cause wave effects in our energy supply systems, heating up and even the destruction of our entire energy infrastructure. It seems that all this is only in theory, but this has happened in the past. The most dangerous storms are caused by ejections of the coronal mass. Scientists can not say exactly what causes them, they can not predict their appearance, and they will not know about their appearance before 8 minutes. That’s the amount of time it takes to pass a signal from the sun to the Earth. A cloud of charged particles can be seen on the path from the sun to the Earth for a period of 17 to 36 hours before they reach our planet. The simulation process is started, which allows us to predict which part of the Earth the storm will affect. This is a very important process since disturbance of the Earth’s magnetic balance can affect the operation of power supply systems, and the operation of orbiting satellites. Electromagnetism underlies many modern technologies. According to astrophysicist Scott Mackintosh from the observatory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the US is so concerned about the influence of magnetic storms that the plan for building super transformers capable of withstanding them is growing very aggressively. In fact, it would be very unpleasant to remain without electricity for some long time, because of an event that we can not prevent and predict fairly quickly. Alas, all that the observatories offer today is the timely shutdown of the electric power supply for the time of the storm’s impact. Not everyone can know about this, but the storms are fixed monthly. Simply, this information is not disclosed particularly widely. History One of the most notorious storms was the outbreak of Carrington in 1859. It has disabled telegraph lines around the world. If such an outbreak happened today, all modern energy would be at risk. Only in the first year of recovery would it take $ 2 trillion. But in 2012, the storm, reminiscent of its strength Carrington, barely passed the Earth. If then the eruption occurred a week earlier, our planet would have been hit. There were other outbreaks that were well remembered. In 1989, 6 million people in Quebec were left without energy and communications. In October and November 2003, 17 outbreaks occurred immediately. The planes were redirected, spacecraft devices were switched off, and Sweden was without energy for about an hour. When to wait for magnetic storms As already mentioned above, the activity of the sun remains unsolved. We only know that the sun works on an 11-year cycle of high and low activity. At the same time, with every cycle, the sun becomes quieter. However, a quiet sun is not necessarily a calm sun. It is during periods of weak activity that the greatest storms occur. It is difficult to say what to expect. In 2014, physicist Pete Riley calculated the chances of meeting a major storm, similar to Carrington, in the next decade. They are 12 percent. This is more than one chance out of ten.

On Saturday 3 September 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 brilliance, the quiet streets of the city resting under this strange light, presented a beautiful as well as singular appearance.”[20]

In 1909, an Australian gold miner named C F Herbert retold his observations in a letter to the Daily News in Perth:

“I was gold-digging at Rokewood, about four miles [6.4 km] from Rokewood township (Victoria). I 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 was 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, recognizing, 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.”[21]


Because of the geomagnetically induced current from the electromagnetic fieldtelegraph systems all over Europe and North America failed, in some cases giving their operators electric shocks.[22] Telegraph pylons threw sparks.[23] Some operators were able to continue to send and receive messages despite having disconnected their power supplies.[24][25] The following conversation occurred between two operators of the American telegraph line between Boston, Massachusetts, and Portland, Maine, on the night of 2 September 1859 and reported in the Boston Evening Traveler:

Boston operator (to Portland operator): “Please cut off your battery [power source] entirely for fifteen minutes.”

Portland operator: “Will do so. It is now disconnected.”

Boston: “Mine is disconnected, and we are working with the auroral current. How do you receive my writing?”

Portland: “Better than with our batteries on. – Current comes and goes gradually.”

Boston: “My current is very strong at times, and we can work better without the batteries, as the aurora seems to neutralize and augment our batteries alternately, making current too strong at times for our relay magnets. Suppose we work without batteries while we are affected by this trouble.”

Portland: “Very well. Shall I go ahead with business?”

Boston: “Yes. Go ahead.”

The conversation was carried on for around two hours using no battery power at all and working solely with the current induced by the aurora, the first time on record that more than a word or two was transmitted in such a manner.[26]

Similar Events

See also: List of solar storms

Overall, less severe storms occurred in 1921 (this was comparable by some measures) and 1960, when widespread radio disruption was reported. The March 1989 geomagnetic storm knocked out power across large sections of Quebec. On 23 July 2012, a “Carrington-class” solar superstorm (solar flareCMEsolar electromagnetic pulse) was observed, but its trajectory narrowly missed Earth.[5][27]

In June 2013, a joint venture from researchers at Lloyd’s of London and Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER) in the US used data from the Carrington Event to estimate the cost of a similar event in the present to the US alone at US$600 billion to $2.6 trillion (equivalent to $698 billion to $3.02 trillion in 2021[28]),[3] which, at the time, equated to roughly 3.6 to 15.5 percent of annual GDP.

Other research has looked for signatures of large solar flares and CMEs in carbon-14 in tree rings and beryllium-10 (among other isotopes) in ice cores. The signature of a large solar storm has been found for 774–775 CE and for 993–994 CE.[29][30] Carbon-14 levels stored in 775 suggest an event about 20 times the normal variation of the sun’s activity, and 10 or more times the size of the Carrington Event.[31] An event in 7176 BCE may have exceeded even the 774–775 CE event based on this proxy data.[32]

Whether the physics of solar flares is similar to that of even larger superflares is still unclear. The sun may differ in important ways such as size and speed of rotation from the types of stars that are known to produce superflares.[30]

Other evidence

Ice cores containing thin nitrate-rich layers have been analyzed to reconstruct a history of past solar storms predating reliable observations. This was based on the hypothesis that solar energetic particles would ionize nitrogen, leading to the production of nitric oxide and other oxidized nitrogen compounds, which would not be too diluted in the atmosphere before being deposited along with the snow.[33]

Beginning in 1986, some researchers claimed that data from Greenland ice cores showed evidence of individual solar particle events, including the Carrington Event.[34] More recent ice core work, however, casts significant doubt on this interpretation and shows that nitrate spikes are likely not a result of solar energetic particle events but can be due to terrestrial events such as forest fires, and correlate with other chemical signatures of known forest fire plumes. Nitrate events in cores from Greenland and Antarctica do not align, so the hypothesis that they reflect proton events is now in significant doubt.[33][35][36]


    1. Kimball, D. S. (April 1960). “A Study of the Aurora of 1859” (PDF). Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
    2. Tsurutani, B. T. (2003). “The extreme magnetic storm of 1–2 September 1859”. Journal of Geophysical Research. 108 (A7): 1268. Bibcode:2003JGRA..108.1268Tdoi:10.1029/2002JA009504. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
    3. Solar Storm Risk to the North American Electric Grid (PDF). Lloyd’s of London and Atmospheric and Environmental Research, Inc. 2013. Retrieved 17 February 2022.
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    13. 9 articles by E. Loomis published from November 1859 – July 1862 in the American Journal of Science regarding “The great auroral exhibition”, 28 – 4 August September 1859:
    14. Lovett, R.A. (2 March 2011). “What if the biggest solar storm on record happened today?”National Geographic News. Retrieved 5 September 2011.
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    32. Paleari, Chiara I.; F. Mekhaldi; F. Adolphi; M. Christl; C. Vockenhuber; P. Gautschi; J. Beer; N. Brehm; T. Erhardt; H.-A. Synal; L. Wacker; F. Wilhelms; R. Muscheler (2022). “Cosmogenic radionuclides reveal an extreme solar particle storm near a solar minimum 9125 years BP”. Nat. Commun. 13 (214): 214. doi:10.1038/s41467-021-27891-4PMC 8752676PMID 35017519.
    33. Wolff, E.W.; Bigler, M.; Curran, M.A.J.; Dibb, J.; Frey, M.M.; Legrand, M. (2012). “The Carrington event not observed in most ice core nitrate records”Geophysical Research Letters39 (8): 21, 585–21, 598. Bibcode:2012GeoRL..39.8503Wdoi:10.1029/2012GL051603.
    34. McCracken, K.G.; Dreschhoff, G.A.M.; Zeller, E.J.; Smart, D.F.; Shea, M.A. (2001). “Solar cosmic ray events for the period 1561–1994 – 1. Identification in polar ice, 1561–1950”. Journal of Geophysical Research106 (A10): 21, 585–21, 598. Bibcode:2001JGR…10621585Mdoi:10.1029/2000JA000237.
    35. Duderstadt, K.A.; et al. (2014). “Nitrate deposition to surface snow at Summit, Greenland, following the 9 November 2000 solar proton event”. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres. 119 (11): 6938–6957. Bibcode:2014JGRD..119.6938Ddoi:10.1002/2013JD021389.
    36. Mekhaldi, F.; McConnell, J.R.; Adolphi, F.; Arienzo, M.M.; Chellman, N.J.; Maselli, O.J.; et al. (November 2017). “No coincident nitrate enhancement events in polar ice cores following the largest known Solar storms” (PDF). Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres. 122 (21): 11, 900–911, 913. Bibcode:2017JGRD..12211900Mdoi:10.1002/2017JD027325.

Further reading

This further reading section may contain inappropriate or excessive suggestions that may not follow Wikipedia’s guidelines. Please ensure that only a reasonable number of balancedtopicalreliable, and notable further reading suggestions are given; removing less relevant or redundant publications with the same point of view where appropriate. Consider utilizing appropriate texts as inline sources or creating a separate bibliography article(November 2021) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
  • Kappenman, J. (2006). “Great geomagnetic storms and extreme impulsive geomagnetic field disturbance events – An analysis of observational evidence including the great storm of May 1921”. Advances in Space Research. 38 (2): 188–199. Bibcode:2006AdSpR..38..188Kdoi:10.1016/j.asr.2005.08.055.


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