The Worst Cosmic Storms in History

11 Jun 2016

OSR blog post

We are no strangers to bad weather here on Earth. In fact, it seems like every time we turn on the television another area has been struck by a violent storm. But what we rarely think about are those storms that occur on our Sun. When this raging ball of intense heat and energy gets “angry,” look out! There’s a storm-a-brewin’ that can effect us all. Check out these worst cosmic storms in history…they are truly wondrous.

When the Sun shoots off a Solar Flare it is defined as a brief eruption of intense high-energy radiation from its surface. These are associated with sunspots, which can also cause electromagnetic disturbances on the Earth (radio frequency communications and power line transmissions).

Although, we are far away from the Sun, there have been super solar storms on record. Here are some of the most notably to date.

The Carrington Event: 1859

This was the first documented solar flare that had ever impacted Earth. It occurred on September 1st at 11:18 am EDT and was spotted by Richard Carrington through his own private observatory.

This flare was the largest documented solar storm in 500 years. According to NOAA, this event sparked major aurora displays as far south as the Caribbean and was also responsible for interrupting global telegraph communications. This flare was also powerful enough to cause discharges from the lines to catch the telegraph paper on fire.

Solar Flare of 1972 Affects AT&T

According to NASA, the solar flare on August 4th, 1972 was so powerful it knocked out phone communications across some states. This event made AT&T stand up and take action by redesigning their power system for transatlantic cables.


Canadian Blackout of 1989

In March of 1989 a powerful solar flare erupted and left six million people without power and electricity for nine hours. Although, this flare was no where near the power of the Carrington event, it still shut down the electric power transmission from the Hydro Québec generating station and even melted some power transformers in New Jersey.

The Bastille Day Event of 2000

This year not only marked a new millennium, but it also marked the year when a major solar flare (an X5) occurred on the French holiday (Bastille Day) on July 14th. This storm short-circuit satellites and led to some radio blackouts. It remains one of the most highly observed solar storm events and was the most powerful flare since 1989.

The Halloween Sun Storm of 2003

Treat-or-treaters were probably oblivious to the solar storm raging on, but it was a whopper. This event made news when it overwhelmed the spacecraft sensor monitoring it. This intense flare measured an outstanding X45 on the scale and was said to be only one of several that occurred over a two-week period.

X-Ray Sun Flare of 2006

A powerful X9 solar flare erupted on December 5th, 2006. According to NASA, it was so powerful it “disrupted satellite-to-ground communications and Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation signals for about 10 minutes.” It even damaged the solar x-ray imager instrument on the satellite that took its picture.

Scientists are doing their best to predict when another Solar Flare event could occur. Although, these intense sun storms should only happen every 350 years, experts feel we could be in store for one at any time. If this does happen, we may not get the warning needed to protect our communications and electronics from failure. Let’s hope in the meantime technology can come up with a way to protect this delicate equipment.