In a recent revelation, researchers have identified a colossal geomagnetic storm that hit Earth in 1872, giving a fresh perspective on our understanding of solar storms and their frequency. This storm disrupted electrical systems, cast a spectacular display of auroras, and raised alarm about the potential impacts a similar event could have on our technologically-reliant society today. These findings underscore the urgency to keep a vigilant eye on potential future storms as they can stem from even modestly-sized sunspots and pose significant threats to our modern existence.
Super Geomagnetic Storms: More Frequent Than Previously Thought
Contrary to earlier beliefs, these major supergeomagnetic storms are more frequent and pose a significant risk to our technology-heavy society. The intensity of such a solar geomagnetic storm is extreme and could be one of the largest ever recorded. A storm of this magnitude would wreak havoc on our modern civilization. In May 1921, another supergeomagnetic storm occurred, known as the largest geomagnetic storm of the 20th century. Referred to as the New York Railroad Storm, this event painted the nighttime sky with breathtaking auroras and disrupted and damaged telephone and telegraph systems connected to the railroad systems in New York City and throughout the state.
Uncovering the 1872 Geomagnetic Storm
The new study now recognises a third storm from February 1872 as one of the most intense on record. This storm generated auroras even further south than the Carrington event and induced magnetic disturbances on Earth that were as severe, if not worse. Researchers had to play detectives to analyze an event that occurred over a century ago. They scoured through sunspot records, magnetic field records, newspaper clippings, telegraph operators, ship records, and other available documents to understand the intensity, duration, and origin of this storm.
Implications and Preparations for Future Storms
Three supergeomagnetic storms in the last two centuries might not sound alarming, but researchers believe that’s too frequent for comfort. The February 1872 event reinforces the notion that large, highly disruptive solar events and the resulting geomagnetic storms are more common than most people realize. In fact, one such supergeomagnetic storm narrowly missed Earth in July 2012. The storm was the strongest in more than 150 years and had it hit Earth, it could have crippled energy, communications, and satellite systems that we rely on in our daily lives. The findings accentuate the importance of monitoring and preparing for such solar events to mitigate risks to global technology networks.