The bursts would have wreaked havoc on the Earth's magnetic field,
matching the severity of the 1859 Carrington event, the largest
solar magnetic storm ever reported on the planet. That blast knocked
out the telegraph system across the United States, according to
University of California, Berkeley research physicist Janet Luhmann.
"Had it hit Earth, it probably would have been like the big one in
1859, but the effect today, with our modern technologies, would have
been tremendous," Luhmann said in a statement.
A 2013 study estimated that a solar storm like the Carrington Event
could take a $2.6 trillion bite out of the current global economy.
Massive bursts of solar wind and magnetic fields, shot into space on
July 23, 2012, would have been aimed directly at Earth if they had
happened nine days earlier, Luhmann said.
The bursts from the sun, called coronal mass ejections, carried
southward magnetic fields and would have clashed with Earth's
northward field, causing a shift in electrical currents that could
have caused electrical transformers to burst into flames, Luhmann
said. The fields also would have interfered with global positioning
The event, detected by NASA's STEREO A spacecraft, is the focus of a
paper that was released in the journal Nature Communications on
Tuesday by Luhmann, China's State Key Laboratory of Space Weather
professor Ying Liu and their colleagues.
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Although coronal mass ejections can happen several times a day
during the sun's most active 11-year cycle, the blasts are usually
small or weak compared to the 2012 and 1859 events, she said.
Luhmann said that by studying images captured by the sun-observing
spacecraft, scientists can better understand coronal mass ejections
and predict solar magnetic storms in the future.
"We have the opportunity to really look closely at one of these
events in all of its glory and look at why in this instance was so
extreme," Luhmann said.
(Editing by Scott Malone, David Gregorio and Eric Walsh)
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