On Sept. 1, 1859, Richard Carrington, a solar astronomer, witnessed an unusual clump of sunspots that suddenly and briefly flashed brightly before they disappeared.
Just before dawn the next day, auroras erupted to most of the Earth, reaching as far south as Cuba, the Bahamas, Jamaica, El Salvador, and Hawaii. The event produced not only a visible light show in areas where they do not typically appear, but it also sent telegraph systems around the world go haywire.
What Carrington witnessed that fateful day was a white-light solar flare. It sent CME, a cloud of charged particles and magnetic loops, toward Earth. When CME interacted with the planet's magnetic field, it created a global bubble of magnetism.
The incident was dubbed the Carrington Event and, according to NASA, it is the biggest geomagnetic storm ever recorded in 160 years. Scientists warned that a storm of the same magnitude can happen again and it might cause bigger damage.
Trillions Of Dollars Worth Of Damages
Abraham Loeb, chair of the astronomy department at Harvard University, told Express UK that if the Carrington Event happened today, it would cost around $2 trillion to $3 trillion worth of infrastructure damage. Professor Loeb is the same scientist who proposed that the first interstellar object discovered in the solar system, Oumuamua, is an alien space ship.
"This includes damage to global supply chains, communication satellites, electric power grids and so forth," he stated. "And of course we rely on technology more and more as time goes on, so the economic damage would be even greater in the future."
The Next Carrington Event
He also said that another event similar to Carrington, which took place 150 years ago, might be on the horizon.
"On the time scale of a century, it will definitely take place," he warned.
He encouraged governments to brace for the next solar storm that might affect life on Earth. He suggested a way that could deflect the energy hurled by the sun.
The technology, a magnetic deflector, would be very expensive to develop based on his own estimates. However, Loeb believes that it would be worth it compared to the cost of damages incurred from another Carrington Event.
NASA monitors solar activity, including sunspots and solar flares, every day.