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Past solar storms show potential for disruption


Shortly before noon on Sept. 1, 1859, British astronomer Richard Carrington reported seeing “two patches of intensely bright and white light” emerging from some sunspots he was observing.

The storm disrupted telegraph service all over Europe and North America, although some telegraph operators could continue to send and receive messages despite having disconnected their power supplies, according to a 2016 report by the Catholic University of America in Washington.

Auroras could be seen around the world and those over the Rocky Mountains were so bright that the glow woke up gold miners who mistakenly thought it was time for breakfast, according to New York-based Scientific American magazine.

A 2013 report by Lloyd’s of London and Lexington, Massachusetts-based Atmospheric Environmental Research Inc., a Verisk Analytics company, called the Solar Storm Risk to the North American Power Grid said that “a major space weather event on the scale of the Carrington Event could lead to power loss for a period of weeks or more.”

More recently, a solar storm was blamed for an incident on May 15, 1921, The New York Times said, where the entire signal and switching system of the New York Central Railroad below 125th street was put out of operation and a fire erupted in the control tower at 57th Street and Park Avenue.

A severe geomagnetic storm struck Earth on March 13, 1989, and caused a nine-hour outage of Hydro-Québec’s electricity transmission system, according to NASA’s website, and caused blackouts in some parts of the United States as well. In August 1989, another storm halted all trading on Toronto’s stock market, according an article in London-based New Scientist magazine.

In October 2003, solar storms caused minor grid disturbances in North America, a brief blackout in Sweden and damage to 12 transformers in South Africa that had to be removed from service, Lloyd’s report said.




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