For centuries, numerous eruptions of great intensity have taken place on the Sun. The first solar storm that affected in a considerable way the Earth was recorded in 1859.
Solar activity had already been observed by the Italian scientist Galileo in the XVIIth century.
The solar storm of 1859 was composed of a series of eruptions on our star and now appears as a reference in the field. This is one of the most powerful solar storms which hit the Earth. It is also sometimes known under the name of the Carrington event in tribute to the English astronomer Richard Carrington. At the end of August 1859, exactly the 28th, a first flare hit Earth. It was manifested by the presence of northern lights reaching the equator. Some days later, on September 1st, Richard Carrington observed on the Sun big “black spots” (sunspots) that could be detected to the naked eye. About 17 hours after observing these spots on the Sun’s surface, Earth was affected: Aurora Borealis more intense than those of the previous days. Moreover, a large disturbance was noticed on the telegraph network, only electrical grid of the time. Many telegraph stations were burned, operators were electrocuted throughout the United States and Europe.
But this violent solar storm is far from being the only one that affected our planet. In 1989, another major storm touched the Earth. It took place on March 9, 1989 on the sun and reached the Earth, especially in North America, a few days later, on 13 March. This solar storm had as a main effect the fall of the production system, followed by the collapse of the whole electricity network of Quebec, plunging more than six million people in the dark for close to nine hours. This general breakdown caused the loss of several million dollars (5 according to a report by the OECD, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).
During the years 1991, 1997 and 2000, satellites were destroyed by the solar wind which passed following a storm. On a related subject, the first scape station “Skylab”, launched by the United States in 1973, was forced to abandon its orbit around our planet (re-entering the earth’s atmosphere) some years before the predictions made by the NASA scientists. It’s possible that a solar storm would have altered the function of the gyroscopes that this space station needed for its correct performance and stability. Thus, it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere in 1979 and unfortunately “crashed” in Australia.
In 2003, a solar storm hit our planet one more time. The latter, also known as « the Halloween storm », led to many mistakes on the WAAS (a system that corrects GPS errors by measures of points on the ground, which the coordinates are known) and then forced aeroplanes to use a backup system (blocking over 30h). About 60% of NASA satellites lost their connection with the Earth. This storm also caused blackouts in power systems of South Africa and Sweden.
After making this non-exhaustive list of the various solar storms that have touched the Earth since 1859, it is possible to appreciate that this phenomenon has proven to be recurring and that it won’t cease to hit our planet, leaving behind lesser or bigger consequences.