FW: The 1859 "Carrington Event"

William F. Fenn bfenn at cox.net
Mon Mar 26 20:12:06 CDT 2012



From: tacos-bounces+bfenn=cox.net at amrad.org
[mailto:tacos-bounces+bfenn=cox.net at amrad.org] On Behalf Of Phil
Sent: Monday, March 26, 2012 7:31 PM
To: Tacos AMRAD
Subject: Re: The 1859 "Carrington Event"

Fascinating. But don't worry, it could never happen here.

Phil M1GWZ

On 26 Mar 2012, at 18:14, Karl W4KRL wrote:



Many telegraph lines across North America were rendered inoperable on the
night of August 28 1859 as the first of two successive solar storms struck.
E.W. Culgan, a telegraph manager in Pittsburgh, reported that the resulting
currents flowing through the wires were so powerful that platinum contacts
were in danger of melting and "streams of fire" were pouring forth from the
circuits. In Washington, D.C., telegraph operator Frederick W. Royce was
severely shocked as his forehead grazed a ground wire. According to a
witness, an arc of fire jumped from Royce's head to the telegraphic
equipment. Some telegraph stations that used chemicals to mark sheets
reported that powerful surges caused telegraph paper to combust.

On the morning of September 2, the magnetic mayhem resulting from the second
storm created even more chaos for telegraph operators. When American
Telegraph Company employees arrived at their Boston office at 8 a.m., they
discovered it was impossible to transmit or receive dispatches. The
atmosphere was so charged, however, that operators made an incredible
discovery: They could unplug their batteries and still transmit messages to
Portland, Maine, at 30- to 90-second intervals using only the auroral
current. Messages still couldn't be sent as seamlessly as under normal
conditions, but it was a useful workaround. By 10 a.m. the magnetic
disturbance abated enough that stations reconnected their batteries, but
transmissions were still affected for the rest of the morning.

Sky on Fire
When telegraphs did come back on line, many were filled with vivid accounts
of the celestial light show that had been witnessed the night before.
Newspapers from France to Australia featured glowing descriptions of
brilliant auroras that had turned night into day. One eyewitness account
from a woman on Sullivan's Island in South Carolina ran in the Charleston
Mercury: "The eastern sky appeared of a blood red color. It seemed brightest
exactly in the east, as though the full moon, or rather the sun, were about
to rise. It extended almost to the zenith. The whole island was illuminated.
The sea reflected the phenomenon, and no one could look at it without
thinking of the passage in the Bible which says, 'the sea was turned to
blood.' The shells on the beach, reflecting light, resembled coals of fire."

The sky was so crimson that many who saw it believed that neighboring
locales were on fire. Americans in the South were particularly startled by
the northern lights, which migrated so close to the equator that they were
seen in Cuba and Jamaica. Elsewhere, however, there appeared to be genuine
confusion. In Abbeville, South Carolina, masons awoke and began to lay
bricks at their job site until they realized the hour and returned to bed.
In Bealeton, Virginia, larks were stirred from their sleep at 1 a.m. and
began to warble. (Unfortunately for them, a conductor on the Orange &
Alexandria Railroad was also awake and shot three of them dead.) In cities
across America, people stood in the streets and gazed up at the heavenly
pyrotechnics. In Boston, some even caught up on their reading, taking
advantage of the celestial fire to peruse the local newspapers.

Ice core samples have determined that the Carrington Event was twice as big
as any other solar storm in the last 500 years. What would be the impact of
a similar storm today? According to a 2008 report from the National Academy
of Sciences, it could cause "extensive social and economic disruptions" due
to its impact on power grids, satellite communications and GPS systems. The
potential price tag? Between $1 trillion and $2 trillion.

See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_storm_of_1859

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