Magentic or Geomagnetic Storms

A magentic storm, also known as a geomagnetic storm, is described as a disturbance in space weather that then causes a disturbance of the Earth’s magnetosphere, which is temporary and usually lasts anywhere from 24 to 48 hours.

A magnetic storm is usually caused by a solar wind shock that is associated with solar coronal mass ejections, coronal holes, or solar flares. Magnetic storms are also associated with a change in solar wind pressure in the magnetosphere that will increase or decrease depending on the Sun’s activity.

These pressure changes in the solar wind change the electric currents in the ionosphere. Some storms are worse than others, and can cause anything from auroras or even power outages. In 1859 an event that would later be called “1859 solar superstorm” occurred from August 28th until September 2.

Numerous sunspots and solar flares were spotted on the sun which caused a massive CME (coronal mass ejections) to head directly towards Earth. This trip normally takes three to four days to reach Earth but due to the intensity of the storm, it made it within eighteen hours. This was the largest geomagnetic storm ever recorded.

It happened September 1-2 and caused auroras to be seen as far south as Hawaii and Italy. It also caused telegraph wires to short out and even cause fires in some instances. To think what would happen to our technology today if a solar superstorm of this intensity reached Earth is unimaginable.

Another occurrence of a severe geomagnetic storm happened on March 13, 1989. This storm caused the collapse of the Hydro-Quebec power grid in a matter of seconds and left six million people without power for nine hours, with a great economic loss. Auroras were spotted as far south as Texas with this 1989 storm.

Since the 1898 storm, power companies have taken the initiative to protect against risks of geomagnetically induced currents (GIC) and have developed mitigation strategies. The most recent geomagnetic storm occured on February 26, 2008 when the magnetic fields erupted against the magnetotail and released a massive amount of energy.

This blast launched two huge clouds of proton and electrons, with only one headed towards Earth. When the cloud reached Earth it created vivid auroras in Canada and Alaska. Although these magnetic storms are relatively rare and varied in intensity, one can only wonder what might happen if a storm even stronger than the 1959 solar superstorm should occur.