Tag Archives: Carrington event

Solar Flares Are Electrifying

Solar flares make for pretty Northern lights. And Southern lights. The bigger the flare, the bigger the lights. The flare has to be aimed, and timed, just right, though, to hit the earth.

A British amateur astronomer, Richard Carrington, was the first one to observe a solar flare, back on September 1st, 1859. Actually, another British amateur astronomer, one Richard Hodgson, saw it at the same time, but somehow Carrington got first dibs on it. The Carrington Event was named after him.

What was the Carrington event, you might well ask? Well, that flare came at us with a major rider attached to it, a huge coronal mass ejection that hit us 17.6 hours later. Coronal mass ejections are mainly composed of electrons and protons. Since those electrons and protons have, respectively, negative and positive charges, they wreak havoc on our magnetic field, making it surge stronger and weaker, back and forth, across the planet. The earth’s magnetic field twerks, as it were, the twerking continuing for as long as it takes for the mass of particles to go by.

Now, we all remember our basic high school physics, don’t we? What happens when you wiggle a magnetic field around an electrical conductor? Well? Don’t we? Do I hear crickets chirping?

Telegraph operators around the world, back in 1859, had a direct experience of what happens when a magnetic field twerks around a copper telegraph network. Electricity is generated. Sparks were reported flying off the key onto the operator’s hand, some getting burns from the shock. Sparks flew off insulators on the telegraph poles. Operators disconnected the batteries that powered the lines but were still able to key in messages using the induced current. Some wires melted.

There’s plenty of evidence that such things have hit the earth in the past, relevantly frequently, geologically speaking.

Here’s a hypothetical, quasi question: What effect would a Carrington scale coronal mass ejection have today? The answer is not at all hypothetical or quasi. It would blow out most of our satellites, electricity grid, cell phone network, radios, TV’s, cellphones, computers, anything with an electrical conductor in it could be toasted, even your toaster.

Need we worry? Surely, knowing that such things are likely to happen, our engineers, our governing bodies, our corporate masters, have more than adequately prepared things to get us up and running, toot suite. You know, an adequate supply of back up electricity transformers and such, emergency plans, and similar reasonable precautions, like putting our electrical grid underground and shielded?

Perhaps, in a happier alternate reality, our leaders have done so. But not in this timeline. When the next big coronal mass ejection hits us, it will be, as my college buddy Weird Ward would say, “Toot-toot-kablooie!”

First shared on the Squatcher’s Lounge Podcast:

For the reading impaired, an audio version of this quasi theory may be found here: