by Jonathan O’Callaghan, Scientific American
New data suggest the New York Railroad Storm could have surpassed the intensity of the famous Carrington Event of 1859.
A powerful disaster-inducing geomagnetic storm is an inevitability in the near future, likely causing blackouts, satellite failures, and more. Unlike other threats to our planet, such as supervolcanoes or asteroids, the time frame for a cataclysmic geomagnetic storm—caused by eruptions from our sun playing havoc with Earth’s magnetic field—is comparatively short. It could happen in the next decade—or in the next century. All we know is, based on previous events, our planet will almost definitely be hit relatively soon, probably within 100 years.
Geomagnetic storms are caused by sunspots, solar flares and coronal mass ejections, resulting in calamities to which our modern technological society is becoming ever more susceptible. Most experts regard the Carrington Event, a so-called superstorm that occurred in September 1859, as the most powerful geomagnetic storm on record. But new data suggest that a later storm in May 1921 may have equaled or even eclipsed the Carrington Event in intensity, causing at least three major fires in the U.S., Canada and Sweden—and highlighting the damaging effects these storms can have on Earth today.