The use of cell phones, tablets, laptops, and other personal electronic devices have facilitated instant communication among family members and friends. Busy parents can manage the entire family’s comings and goings with a hand-held device. If you’ve ever had a day without technology, you have probably noticed how much you miss it. Indeed, we have become shockingly dependent on our technology. Some might even argue that we have a technology addiction.
It’s hard to imagine how daily life would crumble if we had a sudden interruption to our technology access. If you look back to 1859, you can get a notion of what can happen when a technology-halting catastrophe strikes.
The Carrington Event
The Carrington Event was a powerful geomagnetic solar storm that occurred in September of 1859 during solar cycle 10 (which took place between 1855 and 1867). A massive solar coronal ejection hit the earth’s magnetosphere, inducing the largest geomagnetic storm in recorded history. Richard C. Carrington and Richard Hodgson, two English astronomers, observed and recorded the white-light flare that occurred in the solar photosphere.
The flare travelled directly to Earth. It took 17.6 hours for the flare to cover the 150 million-kilometer distance from the sun to the earth. Normally, coronal mass ejections take several days to reach the earth, but a prior ejection cleared out ambient solar wind plasma, hastening the pace of the juggernaut.
Effects of the Carrington Event
The geomagnetic solar flare and the magnetic storm occurring the following day resulted in worldwide effects. Auroras were observed around the globe with such a bright glow that miners in the Rocky Mountains mistook the light for morning and started preparing breakfast. People in the northeastern part of the U.S. could read their newspapers by the light of the auroras.Telegraph systems in North America and Europe were disrupted with telegraph pylons throwing sparks and operators getting electric shocks.
A Modern-day Carrington Event
Studies have shown that a repeat of the Carrington Event would cause massive damage, perhaps even more than it did in 1859 given our tech-dependent society. A study conducted in 2013 by Lloyds of London and Atmospheric and Environmental Research, Inc. estimated that a Carrington Event occurring today would cost the U.S. alone up to$2.6 trillion in damages.