Sciency Words: The Carrington Event

Sciency Words PHYS copy

Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Every Friday, we take a look at a new and interesting scientific term to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s word is:

THE CARRINGTON EVENT

In 1859, British astronomer Richard Carrington was studying the Sun when he observed two bright flashes of light. This turned out to be a major solar storm. As luck would have it, the brunt of the storm was aimed directly at Earth.

Here’s the good news: the world didn’t end.

The bad news is that when the massive cloud of solar ejecta hit Earth, it triggered what’s called a geomagnetic storm, the worst geomagnetic storm on record.

Solar storms like the Carrington Event, pictured above, don’t hit Earth directly.  Instead, they mess with Earth’s magnetic field, which in turn messes with our technology.
Solar storms like the Carrington Event, pictured above, don’t hit Earth directly. Instead, they mess with Earth’s magnetic field, which in turn messes with our technology.

Telegraph wires picked up and transmitted energy from the geomagnetic storm, causing mayhem for telegraph operators around the globe. Operators received nasty electric shocks. Their equipment melted and/or emitted sparks. In some cases, those sparks ignited fires.

The global economy (such as it was in 1859) was disrupted, as were news services and personal correspondences, but things soon returned to normal. As I said, the Carrington Event was not the end of the world.

But imagine if such a thing happened today, with all our phone lines, Internet connections, power grids, airplanes, and satellites? What would happen to our computers, televisions, and microwave ovens? Fortunately for us, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is on top of this issue, and their Space Weather Prediction Center will be the subject of Monday’s post.

P.S.: If you love learning new words as much as I do, please check out Michelle Joelle’s blog Stories and Soliloquies.  Today (assuming I got the date right), she’s launching a new series called the Philosopher’s Lexicon, so now we can all expand our philosophical vocabularies together!

Sources

The 1859 Carrington Event from Tempo.

Monster Radiation Burst from the Sun from BBC News.

The Solar Storm of 1859 from Wikipedia.

 

 

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