As I was driving today, NPR radio put on a live report about today’s strong solar flare, which reached an R3 rating on NOAA’s Space Weather scale. The emissions were strong enough to interfere with high frequency radio activity–the airlines that operate over the poles often reroute their planes when even milder storms flare up. It’s nice clear and cold weather here in the Wood River Valley, so there’s a decent chance we’ll be able to see some auroral activity as the solar storm interacts with the atmosphere over the poles tonight. The scientists on NPR (and I’m sorry I didn’t get their names!) also spoke of the history of solar flare activity and how the solar storm of 1859 caused some telegraphs around the country to grow too hot to touch, and even burst into flame.
We have in our stacks a well-reviewed biography by Lucy Jago about the pioneering Norwegian scientist Kristian Birkeland who travelled the earth searching for the source of the phenomenon known as The Northern Lights.
More recent events in 1994 caused power and communications outages throughout Canada. What would happen in our highly wired world if an event as large as the 1859 incident occurred is a matter of speculation and debate–at that time in history electrical grids beyond the telegraphs were nearly nonexistent. The events can have peculiar consequences. The book Chasing the Sun by Richard Cohen recounts a story of a solar flare event triggering mines in Haiphong harbor during the Vietnam War. It can be checked out @ the Community Library!