The Carrington Event

It was a morning just as any other in 1859 on September first.  Just days before Edwin Drake had struck oil in Pennsylvania, striking it rich and setting off the Pennsylvania oil rush, the first intercollegiate baseball season was just coming to an end, and The Sun was about to do something that would disrupt and even destroy all of the sturdy electrical equipment recently set up to facilitate communication.  It’s one of the most important stories never told.  If it should ever happen again, life as we know it would change forever on this planet.  And several scientists say it’s about due.

Robert Hersh, manning telegraphy equipment had just gotten off his shift at 11:00 when he was about to step out for lunch.  He passed by the stenographer’s office currently being overseen by his brother when he heard a strange sound for that location.  Silence.  Had it been anywhere but outside the bustling telegrapher’s terminal he would have considered it normal, but it was a Thursday morning.  As Hersh walked into the office he saw his brother laying on the floor next to the terminal.  Immediately shaken, he soon smelled smoke and realized it was coming from the equipment, which appeared to be chattering gibberish madly to itself.  Hersh’s brother soon recovered, but explained that he had been given quite a shock by the sudden sparking up of the terminal.  Soon after, the entire system worldwide shut down.

Imagine all electrical systems and digital devices everywhere suddenly shutting down and most computers becoming smoking ruined fire hazards.  Orbital systems would suddenly burn up in space, their circuits fried and entirely useless.  Communication would come to a standstill.  Even the radio and television would fail to be received by any equipment.  As the lights went out on homes all across the world, the frightened masses would be unable to learn what was going on for several days.  Even then, most power infrastructure would not be back on for weeks or even months.  Fires would rage out of control and the human race would have to become more dependent on local governments once again.  And the culprit for all of this is the very force that gives us life, The Sun.

A study of ice sheets indicates that solar storms have been happening for quite some time with some regularity, and some scientists are even saying it’s about time our planet ran into another one.  Lesser solar storms were recorded in the 1920’s and again in the 1960s.  Some wonder if recent solar activity, ie the lack of sunspots for 75% of the days this year is an indicator of another Carrington Event to be coming soon.  If this were the case, it’s safe to say Earth is the least prepared it has ever been for such an event, and getting less and less all the time.

Then again, it’s almost certain humanity would survive.  Of course it would be catastrophic, but it would not be the end of the world and it most certainly would not be new or unique in the Solar System.