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The Carrington Event of 1859

“Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.”

~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1609

Our own fiery star, the Sun, has a magnetic field which follows an 11 year solar cycle and flips polarity - the Sun's north and south poles switch places. Giant eruptions on the Sun, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections, also increase during this period causing a sort of "solar storm," the effects of which are felt on Earth. The solar storm of 1859 (also known as the Carrington Event) was a powerful geomagnetic solar storm during solar cycle 10 (1855–1867). A solar coronal mass ejection hit Earth's magnetosphere and induced one of the largest geomagnetic storms on record, September 1–2, 1859, causing strong auroral displays and wreaking havoc with telegraph systems! A solar storm of this magnitude occurring today would cause widespread electrical disruptions, blackouts and damage due to extended outages of the electrical grid. One such solar storm with this sort of potential passed Earth's orbit in 2012 without striking the planet, missing by nine days!☀️

A solar flare is a sudden flash of increased brightness, usually observed near the sun's surface. Flares are often, but not always, accompanied by a coronal mass ejection.  The flare ejects clouds of electrons, ions, and atoms along with the electromagnetic waves through the Sun's corona into outer space

Solar flares strongly influence the local space weather in the vicinity of the Earth. They can produce streams of highly energetic particles in the solar wind or stellar wind, known as a solar proton event. These particles can impact the Earth's magnetosphere (see main article at geomagnetic storm), and present radiation hazards to spacecraft and astronauts. Additionally, massive solar flares are sometimes accompanied by coronal mass ejections (CMEs) which can trigger geomagnetic storms that have been known to disable satellites and knock out terrestrial electric power grids for extended periods of time.

The solar storm of 1859 (also known as the Carrington Event)  was a powerful geomagnetic solar storm during solar cycle 10 (1855–1867). A solar coronal mass ejection (CME) hit Earth's magnetosphere and induced one of the largest geomagnetic storms on record, September 1–2, 1859. The associated "white light flare" in the solar photosphere was observed and recorded by British astronomers Richard C. Carrington (1826–1875) and Richard Hodgson (1804–1872).

A solar storm of this magnitude occurring today would cause widespread disruptions and damage due to extended outages of the electrical grid. The solar storm of 2012 was of similar magnitude, but it passed Earth's orbit without striking the planet.

These same energetic particles in the magnetosphere contribute to the aurora borealis and aurora australis.

This fiery tartan by designer Carol A.L. Martin, replicates the hot colors of the sun against the black of empty space.

For more about solar events, click the flaring sun for a link to a Solar Activity watch site.