Recently I talked about recreating the Aurora Borealis so I could see it in the South (of North America). Well, I learned that it has actually been seen here before. In 1859 there was the most intense geomagnetic storm in recorded history, called the Carrington Event. And it will happen again. So I may get to see an aurora sometime. However, that would be a bad thing. A geomagnetic storm that intense would destroy a lot of electronics, including parts of our power grid. So calamity would ensue. It’s something that we should prepare for (both individually and as a country), but that’s beyond the scope of this article.
In 1859 the aurora was seen as far south as south-central Mexico. And in the north, it was so bright that some people thought it was morning already. It was supposedly really beautiful, with the sky filled with every imaginable color.
There were few electrical systems in 1859, but there was a telegraph system. Some telegraph operators got shocked, and some telegraph systems were still able to send messages while disconnected from their power supplies, using the power supplied from the solar storm.
If you would like to learn more about how this works and what may happen, watch this video by Physics Girl:
One neat way to think about the aurora is that it’s showing how the Earth’s atmosphere is acting as a shield. So when it lights up, it’s working. It looks like magic…