Thursday, 9 June 2011

Top 10 Solar Storms and Their Effects on Earth


Photo:REUTERS/Lehtikuva Lehtikuva Aurora Borealis

The Superstorm (August 28, 1859)

This storm was observed world-wide and is, historically, one of the greatest events recorded in the last 150 years. Extensive eyewitness accounts and scientific studies, telegraph disturbances and the unique sighting of a spectacular solar flare make this event one of the most interesting solar storms to read about.



Photo:REUTERS/NASA NASA Aurora Borealis

The Civil War Aurora (December 14, 1862)

This aurora was seen by Civil War soldiers in Fredericksberg Virginia. According to a letter by Milo Grow "There was a brilliant exhibition of Aurora Borealis soon after dark last night. For half an hour it shows very brilliantly reaching to the mid heavens in colors of yellow and red.

" And in the David Ballenger letters "On the night of the second day of the battle there was a singular appearance in the elements, the most singular that I ever saw in my life. Some said it was an Aurora Borealis, or Northern Light, but if it was it was a little different from any I ever saw before. It rose on the side of the enemy and came up very near parallel with our line of battle, and right over us.

It turned as red as blood, but when it commenced rising it looked more like the appearance of the moon rising than anything else I know to compare it to" (1862 December 23). " And by John W. Thompson, Jr. "Louisiana sent those famous cosmopolitan Zouaves called the Louisiana Tigers, and there were Florida troops who, undismayed in fire, stampeded the night after Fredericksburg, when the Aurora Borealis snapped and crackled over that field of the frozen dead hard by the Rappahannock ..." And also in 1905 by Elizabeth Lyle Saxon in A Southern Woman's War Time Reminiscenses " It was near this time that the wonderful spectacle of the Aurora Borealis was seen in the Gulf States.

The whole sky was a ruddy glow as if from an enormous conflagration, but marked by the darting rays peculiar to the Northern light. It caused much surprise, and aroused the fears even of those far from superstitious. I remember an intelligent old Scotch lady said to me, "Oh, child, it is a terrible omen; such lights never burn, save for kings' and heroes' deaths."


Photo:REUTERS/Ho New Solar activities

The Transit of Venus Storm (November 18, 1882)

It produced a compass bearing deflection of nearly 2 degrees, All telegraphic transactions east of the Mississippi River and north of Washington D.C came to a halt. The Chicago stock market was severely affected all day. A large sunspot was then seen covering an area of more than three thousand millions of square miles. Simultaneously with the appearance of the spot, magnetic disturbances at the observatory in Greenwich increased in frequency and violence, other symptoms were noticed throughout the length of the British Isles. Telegraphic communication was greatly interfered with.

The signal bells on many of the railway lines were rung, and some of the operators received shocks from their instruments. Lastly, on November 17, a superb aurora was witnessed, the culminating feature of which was the appearance, at about six o'clock in the evening, of a mysterious beam of greenish light, in shape something like a cigar, and many degrees in length, which rose in the east and crossed the sky at a pace much quicker than but nearly as even as that of sun, moon, or stars, till it set in the west two minutes after its rising.

The daily press was burdened with accounts of widespread magnetic disturbance, in some places telegraphic communication was suspended. In Milwaukee the carbons in the electric lamps were lighted, rendered incandescent by currents of electricity flowing on the wires. At other locations, switchboards in telegraph offices were set on fire and sending keys were melted, while electric balls were seen hovering on the telegraph in Nebraska.

Fountains of super-hot gas blasting high above the Sun's surface

Fountains of super-hot gas blasting high above the Sun's surface could provide new clues to an old astronomic mystery, NASA scientists said September 26, 2000. New observations of the monster gas jets, which rise in arches up to 300,000 miles (482,800 km) above the solar surface, may help answer questions about what makes the Sun's corona - its volatile, immense halo - so infernally hot.

Combo shows TRACE observations of Active Region 9169, made on September 24, 2000. The visible-light image (L) shows a very complicated sunspot group, with lots of small, dark pores (small sunspots, without a penumbra formed by nearly horizontal field surrounding the larger spots).

The 1600A image at center shows that there is much more magnetic field on the solar surface than what can be seen in white light: the entire upper-left area of the region is full of magnetic field that lights up in the ultraviolet light, without a trace in the white light images. Higher up in the atmosphere, the hot corona (R), showing gas at 1 million degrees shows magnetic loops ending in the field on the surface, where the loops are very hot, only the footpoints are seen as the moss-like patterns in the upper left, whereas cooler loops show up along much of their length (lower left and upper right).


The Halloween Storm (October 29, 2003)

This Halloween Storm spawned auroras that were seen over most of North America. Extensive satellite problems were reported, including the loss of the $450 million Midori-2 research satellite. Highly publicized in the news media. A huge solar storm has impacted the Earth, just over 19 hours after leaving the sun.

This is one of the fastest solar storm in historic times, only beaten by the perfect solar storm in 1859 which spent an estimated 17 hours in transit. A few days later on November 4, 2003 one of the most powerful x-ray flares ever detected, swamped the sensors of dozens of satellites, causing satellite operations anomalies….but no aurora. Originally classified as an X28 flare, it was upgrade to X34 a month later.

In all of its fury, it never became a white light flare such as the one observed by Carrington in 1859. Astronauts hid deep within the body of the International Space Station, but still reported radiation effects and ocular 'shooting stars'.


The Easter Sunday Storm (March 25, 1940)

On Easter Sunday calls to grandma by millions of people were halted between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM creating pandemonium at nearly all Western Union offices. [New York Times, March 25, 1940, p. 1]. A telephone cable between Fargo North Dakota and Winnipeg was found with its wires fused together, presumably from the voltage surges. Consolidated Edison of New York also reported 1,500 volt dips in three electrical generators in New York City located in Brooklyn and the Bronx. In Bangor Maine, lightning arresters were burned out as well. The New York Times noted that United Press reported earth currents at 400 Volts in Boston, 450 in Milwaukee, and more than 750 Volts near St. Louis.

All tolled, the Associated Press's entire investment of 185,000 miles of leased wires were put out of service. Practically every long-distance telegraph or telephone office in the country was doing repair work in what was considered one of the worst such events in history. AT&T land lines had been badly disrupted by 600 volt surges on wires designed for 48 volts.

In the Atlantic Cable between Scotland and Newfoundland, voltages up to 2,600 volts were recorded during the storm. Coast Guard radio stations were blocked, although compasses were not affected. Excessive voltage in the Boston and Kene telegraph lines 'blew fuses'. In several instances fuses were 'blown' and vacuum tubes ran the risk of damage due to these influences.


The Playoffs Storm (September 18, 1941)

This storm had the misfortune of occurring during a home game of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Pittsburgh Pirates. During the day, baseball fans expected to hear the entire 4:00 PM broadcast on station WUR by Red Barber. With the game tied at 0-0, the station became inaudible for 15 minutes. When it resumed, the Pirates had piled up not just one, but FOUR runs.

Within minutes, thousands of Brooklyn fans had pounded the radio station, demanding an explanation for the 'technical difficulties', only to receive the unsatisfactory answer that the sun was to blame. The effects of the 'sunspots' also appeared in the by-now usual problems with transatlantic short-wave communication to Europe, which was out for most of the day. But the sun wasn't quite finished with New York City after the baseball game 'mishap'. The Brooklyn Dodgers went on to face the New York Yankies in the World Series a few weeks later, but lost seven games to four.


The Acheron Submarine Storm (February 24, 1956)

The February 24, 1956 storm produced the most intense cosmic ray blast ever recorded, but was a nonevent so far as any apparent worldwide disruptions were concerned. The New York Times ran a very short 100-word article on a 'rare aurora' seen in Fairbanks Alaska in the shape of a pure red arc. Later, they announced that 'Suns raging storms photographed in a lengthier article. The aurora was held responsible for the cause of a full-scale Naval alarm for a British submarine which was thought to have disappeared. The Acheron had been expected to report her position at 5:05 EST while on Arctic patrol. When it failed to do so, emergency rescue preparations were begun and both ships and rescue planes began searching the waters between Iceland and Greenland.

The 'missing' submarine turned up four hours later when its transmissions were again picked up. In Boston, Channel 7 TV viewers were treated to broadcasts from Channel 7 in Manchester Vermont while Channel 4 viewers watched a program on the same channel televised from Providence Rhode Island.

A bizarre voice over to a love scene being played out on a local TV channel produced the dialog' Smith gave him a left to the jaw and a short right to the stomach....But darling, we love each other so very much...a left hook to the jaw flattened Smith...Kiss me again my sweet" Amazingly a local weatherman was quoted as saying that aurora were caused by sunlight reflecting off of ice crystals high up in the atmosphere, not realizing that he was resurrecting Captain John Rosse's discredited idea now dead for some 120 years.


The Space Age Storm (August 2, 1972)

Solar astronomers reported that Active Region 331 had produced three powerful flares during a span of 15 hours. The intensity of these flares, classified as 'X2' were near the limits of the scale used to classify solar flare X-ray power. The next day, the Pioneer 9 spacecraft detected a shock wave from the first of these flares at 11:24 UT accompanied by a sudden change in the solar wind speed from 350 to 585 km/sec.

Space weather forecasters at the Space Environment Services Center in Boulder Colorado issued an alert that predicted a major storm would arrive at the earth between August 4. They were not disappointed. Armed with vastly improved technology and scientific ideas, they were able to realize William Ellis's 1882 dream of predicting a solar storm. At 4:00 UT, aurora were seen simultaneously from Illinois to Colorado and the events of this storm were widely reported in major international newspapers.

At 22:30 UT AT&T reported a voltage surge of 60 volts on their coaxial telephone cable between Chicago and Nebraska. Another 30 minute shutdown of phone service on Bell's cable link between Plano, Illinois and Cascade, Iowa was also attributed to the storm. Both the Canadian Overseas Telecommunications Corporation and Canadian National Telecommunications reported that the current surges in their lines had damaged components in their system ranging from noise filters to 'carbon blocks' Taxi drivers received orders from distant cities and were forced to turn down lucrative transcontinental fares! Paul Linger of the Denver Zoo said that the disruption of the Earth's magnetic field by the storms would disorient pigeons who depend upon the field for their sense

The Civil War Aurora (December 14, 1862)

This aurora was seen by Civil War soldiers in Fredericksberg Virginia. According to a letter by Milo Grow "There was a brilliant exhibition of Aurora Borealis soon after dark last night. For half an hour it shows very brilliantly reaching to the mid heavens in colors of yellow and red. " And in the David Ballenger letters "On the night of the second day of the battle there was a singular appearance in the elements, the most singular that I ever saw in my life.

Some said it was an Aurora Borealis, or Northern Light, but if it was it was a little different from any I ever saw before. It rose on the side of the enemy and came up very near parallel with our line of battle, and right over us. It turned as red as blood, but when it commenced rising it looked more like the appearance of the moon rising than anything else I know to compare it to" (1862 December 23). " And by John W. Thompson, Jr. "Louisiana sent those famous cosmopolitan Zouaves called the Louisiana Tigers, and there were Florida troops who, undismayed in fire, stampeded the night after Fredericksburg, when the Aurora Borealis snapped and crackled over that field of the frozen dead hard by the Rappahannock ..." And also in 1905 by Elizabeth Lyle Saxon in A Southern Woman's War Time Reminiscenses "

It was near this time that the wonderful spectacle of the Aurora Borealis was seen in the Gulf States. The whole sky was a ruddy glow as if from an enormous conflagration, but marked by the darting rays peculiar to the Northern light. It caused much surprise, and aroused the fears even of those far from superstitious. I remember an intelligent old Scotch lady said to me, "Oh, child, it is a terrible omen; such lights never burn, save for kings' and heroes' deaths."

Photo:NASA Artist's depiction of solar wind colliding with Earth's magnetosphere.

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