The sun is not just a giant ball of fire that keeps burning quietly. The sun is very active and there is a lot going on, on the surface and under the surface of sun. Every now and then there are explosions on the surface of the sun also known as solar flares. These explosions send clouds of electrons, ions and atoms through the corona of the sun into space. Electromagnetic radiation in all wavelengths, from radio waves to gamma rays, is produced during solar explosions. These radiations constitute what is called a solar storm. The shock waves can be felt as changes in the speed of the solar wind. There have been many cases of solar explosion but a few were more noteworthy than others. Like…
This storm occurred on 18 November 1882. All telegraphic transactions in Eastern North America came to a halt and the Chicago market was severely affected all day. A large sun spot was seen and the magnets showed deflection of 2 degrees. Telegraphic and electric cables were all affected whether they were above or under ground. The New York Times called it ‘the storm of the century’.
On 25 January 1938 solar explosions resulted in magnificent auroras seen all over Europe and North America. It was called the Fatima storm because the Roman Catholics believed it was part of the Fatima Prophecies. All over Europe and America people thought that there was a great fire in the distance and called fire brigades.
The 18 September 1941 solar flare caused problems with telegraphic communications. It caused radio problems and a radio station broadcasting the Brooklyn Dodgers Vs Pittsburg Pirates game went offline for 15 minutes during which time the Pirates went from 0-0 to 4-0. The auroras were seen in Europe as well and news stories talked about auroras helping R.A.F bombers in their air raid over Nazi Germany.
On February 1956, the British submarine Acheron lost contact with base due to solar flares and was thought to have gone missing. It caused major confusion and panic and rescue missions were started. The submarine came back in contact after 4 hours. No other major disruptions were felt except a few TV channel signals getting mixed up. A slight aurora was visible in Alaska.
In 1972 a series of solar flares were observed and for the first time the shock waves were felt by the Pioneer 9 spacecraft. On 2 august 3 solar flares of high intensity occurred within 15 hours. When the spacecraft felt the shock wave it also recorded a change in the solar wind speed and scientists were able to predict a solar storm for the first time.
On 13 March 1989 massive solar flares in the Active Region 5395 of the sun caused complete blackout in Quebec. The solar storm caused surges of electric current in the cables that the capacitors in the system were not able to handle and the whole grid collapsed. It affected over 6 million people as everything from office, homes and traffic lights were affected.
On 29 October 2003, a massive storm reached earth just 19 hours after the solar explosion and caused a lot of damage including the loss of the $450 million Midori-2 research satellite. It was the fastest storm recorded since the 1859 super storm which only took 17 hours to reach earth. Astronauts of the International Space Station hid deep within the station but still reported radiation effects.
The second largest recorded solar flare occurred on 2 April 2001. It was classified as X20 on the X-ray radiation scale and was the largest recorded flare at that time. It was larger than the Quebec blackout flare but did not cause that kind of problems because the flare was not directed towards the earth. The coronal mass ejection speed was recorded at roughly 7.2 million km/h.
A few days after the Halloween flare of 2003, the largest solar flare every recorded occurred on 4 November. This flare was so large that it saturated the X-ray detectors of the NOAA’s GOES satellite. Initially it was estimated to be around the X28 mark but others have speculated that it could have been of much higher intensity. The ejection speed of the coronal mass was 2300 km/h.
The most powerful flare every observed is also the first solar flare to have been observed. This event named after Richard Carrington who reported the event occurred on 1 September 1859. Since it was the first solar flare to have been observed we didn’t have the technology to record it but it remains as the largest flare every observed. It was so large that it was visible to the naked eye, which is usually not the case. The aurora was seen down to the tropical latitudes of Cuba and Hawaii. Telegraph systems caught fire. The flare left a trace in the Greenland ice sheet in the form of nitrates and beryllium-10.