The seven worst solar flares in history
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Geomagnetic storms on Earth usually cause bright aurora and add headaches to weather-dependent people. But history knows cases when flashes on the Sun could turn into a disaster for all mankind.
The activity of the Sun increased along with the beginning of the 25th solar cycle, which will continue until 2030. The peak of solar activity will be in the middle of the cycle and will begin to decline towards its completion. At this time, the number of flares on the Sun will increase, and geomagnetic storms on Earth will occur much more often.
It has long been known that solar flares can seriously affect technology on Earth, and with it, satellites and astronauts who go into outer space, where radiation levels increase. Solar flares also affect high-frequency radio communications and GPS.
But according to NASA, the Earth is no stranger to the Sun's wrath – powerful solar storms have hit our planet in the past. Some of them could be disastrous.
The Carrington Event, or the Super Solar Storm of 1859
September 1, 1859 The Carrington Event was the first solar flare documented by scientists. The powerful flash that collided with the Earth was named after astronomer Richard Carrington, who observed the event with a telescope and sketched sunspots.
NASA scientists claim that the 1859 solar flare is the first documented flare and the most powerful storm in the last 500 years.
The solar storm is known to have caused auroras far beyond the poles. Aurora have been observed as far south as the Caribbean. The solar storm also caused a global telegraph outage, according to NASA. Telegraph operators reported sparks that fell from the equipment, in some cases the equipment ignited.
The 1972 solar flare and telephones
August 4, 1972, a massive solar flare erupted that brought down long-distance communications in some US states, according to NASA.
“In fact, this solar flare forced the American multinational telecommunications conglomerate AT&T to redesign its power system, emphasizing transatlantic cables,” the NASA report says.
1989 geomagnetic storm and power outages
On March 13, 1989, Canada experienced a massive power outage due to a massive solar flare. Then about 6 million people were left without electricity for almost nine hours.
NASA reports that a geomagnetic storm interrupted the transmission of electricity from the Hydro Québec power plant (Quebec, Canada). Even some power transformers melted in New Jersey.
However, this solar flare was much weaker than the Carrington Event.
The 2000 Bastille Day solar flare
On July 14, 2000, another powerful solar flare occurred, which was named after the national holiday of France – as you know, on this day the French celebrate Bastille Day.
A giant sunspot named AR9077 has ejected a powerful X5.7-class flare towards Earth. The consequence of this solar flare was the most powerful geomagnetic storm in 25 years.
A solar storm in 2000 caused short circuits in satellites in orbit and led to the shutdown of some radio stations. The Bastille Day event was the most powerful solar flare since 1989.
2003 Solar Flare, or Halloween Storm
In October-November 2003, the Sun erupted in a series of powerful flares and “seasoned” them with coronal mass ejections.
NASA called this event the “Halloween Storms of 2003”. These solar flares have caused flight cancellations, affected satellite systems and caused power problems in Sweden.
The solar attack also temporarily disabled the SOHO heliospheric observatory, which studies the Sun.
The most powerful outbreak in this series occurred on October 28, 2003. It was so powerful that it overloaded the sensor of the spacecraft that measured the intensity of the flare.
The sensor turned off at X28, which already characterizes the flare as very powerful. But the data that was collected a little later showed that the peak power of the solar flare on October 28, 2003 reached X45.
Halloween outbreaks frightened scientists not only with their power, but also with what happened during the solar cycle, when the activity of the star was supposed to remain low. This happened about 2-3 years after the solar maximum.
During this “strange” time for the Sun, NASA registered 17 large flares.
The 2006 Christmas solar flare
December 5, 2006, the Sun burst into a large X-class flare, its power was X9.
Then NASA recorded a communication failure between satellites and the Earth, as well as failures in the GPS system, which lasted 10 minutes.
In addition, the solar storm of 2006 damaged the X-ray device installed on the GOES 13 satellite. But the device still managed to take a picture of the flare on the star.
The most expensive solar flare of 2022
In February 2022, a solar flare destroyed up to 40 Starlink satellites. This powerful geomagnetic storm cost Elon Musk's company $50 million!
Starlink satellites, like other vehicles in low Earth orbit, are known to be especially vulnerable to geomagnetic storms. Since they are 100-200 km above the ground, the vehicles have to rely on on-board engines to resist gravity until they reach an altitude of 550 km.
During a geomagnetic storm, the Earth's atmosphere absorbs a significant part of the ejection energy, which makes the thermosphere denser. The latter extends from 80 to 1 thousand km above the earth. A denser thermosphere means satellites will have to work harder to stay in place.
This is exactly what happened in February 2022. The launched batch of Starlink satellites could not overcome the resistance of the geomagnetic storm: the devices began to fall back to Earth, burning up in the atmosphere.
What are solar flares
According to the generally accepted classification, solar flares are class A , B, S, M, and X.
- The first three classes are the weakest flares that can lead to minor geomagnetic storms on Earth.
- The more severe classes M and X. X-class flares are the strongest eruptions on the Sun and, fortunately, the rarest.
- All classes of solar flares have 9 levels of intensity, but this does not apply to X-class flares, which can have more of them .