What if the 1859 Carrington Event happened again tomorrow?
February 6, 2013 9:31 AM Subscribe
The 1859 Carrington Event
triggered the largest Geomagnetic Storm in recorded history, crippling the relatively small-scale telecommunications systems of the day and causing widespread electro-magnetic disruptions around the globe. If another EM event on that scale occurred today, what would be the likeliest impacts to our telecommunications systems, electrical grids, and magnetic storage media?
posted by saulgoodman to Technology (5 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not looking for doom-mongering or speculative philosophizing/moralizing about the dangers of technological dependence or the bigger-picture economic and social fallout, etc., what I'm looking for are realistic, technical assessments of the likely immediate, practical effects in the context of modern technological infrastructure. Would powerlines burst into flames, or probably not because they're too well-insulated? Would magnetic media be left unreadable? Etc.
A few highlights from what happened in 1859, to give a sense for the scale and magnitude of the event:
- "...telegraph communications around the world began to fail; there were reports of sparks showering from telegraph machines, shocking operators and setting papers ablaze.
- "...a telegraph manager in Pittsburgh, reported that the resulting currents flowing through the wires were so powerful that platinum contacts were in danger of melting and “streams of fire” were pouring forth from the circuits."
- "...telegraph operator Frederick W. Royce was severely shocked as his forehead grazed a ground wire. According to a witness, an arc of fire jumped from Royce’s head to the telegraphic equipment."
- "When American Telegraph Company employees arrived at their Boston office at 8 a.m., they discovered it was impossible to transmit or receive dispatches. The atmosphere was so charged, however, that operators made an incredible discovery: They could unplug their batteries and still transmit messages to Portland, Maine, at 30- to 90-second intervals using only the auroral current."