ArticlePDF Available

Eyewitness Reports of the Great Auroral Storm of 1859

Authors:

Abstract

The great geomagnetic storm of 1859 is really composed of two closely spaced massive worldwide auroral events. The first event began on August 28th and the second began on September 2nd. It is the storm on September 2nd that results from the Carrington–Hodgson white light flare that occurred on the sun September 1st. In addition to published scientific measurements; newspapers, ship logs, and other records of that era provide an untapped wealth of first hand observations giving time and location along with reports of the auroral forms and colors. At its height, the aurora was described as a blood or deep crimson red that was so bright that one “could read a newspaper by”. Several important aspects of this great geomagnetic storm are simply phenomenal. Auroral forms of all types and colors were observed to geographic latitudes of 25° and lower. Significant portions of the world’s 125,000 miles of telegraph lines were also adversely affected. Many of which were unusable for 8 h or more and had a small but notable economic impact. This paper presents only a select few available first hand accounts of the Great Auroral Event of 1859 in an attempt to give the modern reader a sense of how this spectacular display was received by the public from many places around the globe and present some other important historical aspects of the storm.
Eyewitness reports of the great auroral storm of 1859
James L. Green
a,*
, Scott Boardsen
b
, Sten Odenwald
c
, John Humble
d
,
Katherine A. Pazamickas
e,1
a
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA
b
L3 Communications GSI, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA
c
QSS Group, Inc., 4500 Forbes Blvd., Lanham, MD 20706, USA
d
School of Mathematics and Physics, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia
e
Lycoming College, Williamsport, PA 17701, USA
Received 8 August 2005; received in revised form 12 December 2005; accepted 19 December 2005
Abstract
The great geomagnetic storm of 1859 is really composed of two closely spaced massive worldwide auroral events. The first event began
on August 28th and the second began on September 2nd. It is the storm on September 2nd that results from the Carrington–Hodgson
white light flare that occurred on the sun September 1st. In addition to published scientific measurements; newspapers, ship logs, and
other records of that era provide an untapped wealth of first hand observations giving time and location along with reports of the auroral
forms and colors. At its height, the aurora was described as a blood or deep crimson red that was so bright that one ‘‘could read a news-
paper by’’. Several important aspects of this great geomagnetic storm are simply phenomenal. Auroral forms of all types and colors were
observed to geographic latitudes of 25and lower. Significant portions of the world’s 125,000 miles of telegraph lines were also adversely
affected. Many of which were unusable for 8 h or more and had a small but notable economic impact. This paper presents only a select
few available first hand accounts of the Great Auroral Event of 1859 in an attempt to give the modern reader a sense of how this spec-
tacular display was received by the public from many places around the globe and present some other important historical aspects of the
storm.
2006 COSPAR. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Carrington event; Carrington event aurora; Eyewitness reports; Great aurora
1. Introduction
The great geomagnetic storm of 1859 is really composed
of two closely spaced massive worldwide auroral displays
that nearly covered the globe for hours (Green and Board-
sen, 2005). Reports of the aurora and its effect on tele-
graphs were believed to ‘‘furnish facts of importance to
those who look at the phenomena from a scientific point
of view’’ (New York Times, September 5, 1859) and were
consequently being sent to the editors of the American
Journal of Science or the AJS (Silliman, Silliman Jr., Dana
and probably others on the editorial board) for publica-
tion. The AJS editors first published a collection of these
individual contributions before the year was out (Editors,
1859). In that first publication, the editors made a request
for additional reports and soon requested E. Loomis, from
Yale, to help. In all, nine separate collections of reports
were published in the AJS with the editors responsible
for the first four and Loomis the remainder, although Loo-
mis has been commonly attributed with them all (Editors,
1859, 1860a,b,c; Loomis, 1860a,b, 1861a,b, 1865).
In the meantime, several other scientists, most notably
Joseph Henry, were also collecting and receiving auroral
observation reports. ‘‘Professor Henry of the Smithsonian
Institute was up here [Philadelphia] Monday to make
0273-1177/$30 2006 COSPAR. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.asr.2005.12.021
*
Corresponding author.
E-mail address: James.Green@nasa.gov (J.L. Green).
1
Summer Intern, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD
20771, USA.
www.elsevier.com/locate/asr
Advances in Space Research 38 (2006) 145–154
inquiries concerning the phenomenon of Sunday night; and
took the statements of all the operators on duty. He
appeared much pleased with what he had learned. – Oper-
ator American Telegraph Office’’ (Washington Evening
Star News, September 2, 1859). ‘‘We understand that Pro-
fessor Henry is devoting especial attention to this subject,
and it may result in throwing light upon the cause and
effect of the Aurora Borealis, so long a subject of discussion
among our savans (sic)’’ (Washington Daily National
Intelligencer, Saturday September 3, 1859).
Joseph Henry, the Secretary of the newly formed Smith-
sonian Institute in Washington DC, had a keen interest in
the weather. Knowing that the prevailing wind direction
across the US is west to east, he felt certain that weather
could be predicted on the east coast by looking at the
weather the previous day in the mid-west region. As the
telegraph became established, Henry had weather reports
at 7 a.m. telegraphed to him at the Smithsonian from a
large number of cities. Like reporting the weather, reports
of the fantastic 1859 auroral displays were immediately
sent to Joseph Henry. It wasn’t long before Henry, proba-
bly responding to the request from the Editors of AJS, sent
his reports to E. Loomis at Yale University. Reports from
Henry’s collection began to appear in the sixth article in the
series (Loomis, 1860b).
In addition to the scientific measurements that were
published, newspapers of that era provide an untapped
wealth of first hand observations giving us time and loca-
tion along with reports of the auroral forms and colors.
Once recognized, auroral displays were big news for both
small local and metropolitan newspapers. If the weather
was clear during an auroral display, you could almost guar-
antee a story in the local news the next day or even a few
days later. Newspaper reports of the great aurora rarely
got into the scientific journals but they are valuable obser-
vations. In this paper, a selection of newspaper and ship log
reports is used to illustrate the truly beautiful nature of this
great aurora.
2. The August 28th event
The unusually bright and variable auroral forms of the
Great Storm, the mostly clear skies, and moonless nights
(new moon occurred on August 28th) all contributed to
the very large number of reports of the aurora by the gen-
eral public in the newspapers. The following are just a few
examples of eyewitness accounts.
‘‘On Sunday evening (in Vermont), the 28th ult., at sev-
en and a half o’clock, we were notified of a large fire behind
the mountain at the north, and we went out to see it: and
presently the red clouds began to disappear, and spires of
green shot up from the same place. It was the most magnif-
icent display ever witnessed in this section; the sky for
about an hour more kept changing from green to red, till
ten and a half o’clock, when all the brilliancy was gone,
except a little green at the north’’ (Boston Transcript,
Monday, September 5, 1859).
‘‘The sky was completely overarched at one time, and
then the entire firmament presented a gorgeous spectacle,
as the jets of light streaming up from all quarters were of
different hues’’ (Boston Daily Evening Transcript, Monday
evening, August 29, 1859).
‘‘At all events, we know of no known cause that would
produce such celerity of motion as these merry dancers
seemed to have, unless it be galvanism and not electricity’’
(Boston Transcript, Monday, August 29, 1859).
‘‘At one time the northern portion of the heavens
assumed an almost blood red appearance, while here and
there long streaks of light shot up from the horizon to
the zenith. These rapidly changed their place and their
form until they extended over the greater part of the sky,
breaking through the reddish hues and finally covering
nearly the whole face of the heavens’’ (New York Herald,
August 29, 1859).
‘‘Objects at a distance could be more readily and
clearly distinguished than when the moon is at its full.
Now vivid arrows of light of most exceeding brilliancy
shot up from the whole northern horizon; and, retreat-
ing, would again shoot higher and higher, until they cov-
ered the whole sky. This continued to grow darker, first
to scarlet, then to crimson, and finally to the blood red
like appearance of an immense conflagration. The whole
sky appeared mottled-red, the arrows of fire shooting up
from the north, like a terrible bombardment, of which we
could see all and hear none, while the stars of greater
magnitude shone through like sentry lights ...’’ Corre-
spondence of the Journal of Commerce, Cleveland, Ohio
(Washington Daily National Intelligencer, Friday, Sep-
tember 2, 1859).
The aurora ‘‘... was of extraordinary brilliance. There
was a ghastly splendor over the horizon of the North, from
which fantastic spires of light shot up, and a rosy glow
extended, like a vapor tinged with fire, to the zenith’’ (Cin-
cinnati Daily Commercial, August 29, 1859).
‘‘The light appeared in streams, sometimes of a pure
milky whiteness and sometimes of a light crimson. The
white and rose-red waves of light as they swept to and from
the corona were beautiful beyond description, and a friend
near by us, while looking to the zenith with the whole heav-
ens and earth lighted up at a greater brilliancy than is affor-
ded by the full moon, said that it was like resting beneath
the wings of the Almighty. The crown above, indeed,
seemed like a throne of silver, purple and crimson, hung
and spread out with curtains or wings of dazzling beauty.
The tremulous motion of moving light, which the inhabit-
ants of the Shetland Islands call ‘‘the merry dancers’’, was
less apparent than usual, but in place of it came those full,
bright, changing, but more steady streams of light, which
gave an intense brilliancy to the whole heavens’’ (Washing-
ton Daily National Intelligencer, Wednesday, August 31,
1859).
In eastern Australia, where the local time is 15 h ahead
of that in the eastern US, the event was seen on August
29th.
146 J.L. Green et al. / Advances in Space Research 38 (2006) 145–154
From Tasmania. ‘‘It was beyond all conception the most
magnificent aurora ever seen in the colony’’ (The Hobart
Town Mercury, Tuesday Morning, August 30, 1859).
‘‘The phenomenon had for 30 minutes a most magnifi-
cent appearance, the bands being in complete repose, form-
ing a truncated cone of glory, the apex of which, if
projected would have terminated in the zenith. This bril-
liant and beautiful magneto-electric storm appeared again
about 9.30 p.m. flickering in brisk coruscations of most
beautiful color from the horizon to the zenith, and when
reaching the converging point, it produced at one time a
beautiful halo, and at another period it had the effect of
falling from the apex in showers of nebulous matter like
star-dust’’ (The Hobart Town Mercury, Wednesday Morn-
ing, September 14, 1859).
At Cape Otway, Australia (38.9S, 143.5E) ‘‘Aurora
Australis most magnificent at 6:30 p.m., and continued vis-
ible until after 2 a.m., displaying itself to about 60 to 70
deg. First colour above horizon, a light blue with a tint
of green blending into second, a very light yellow green,
again blending into third, a deep red: the reddy scintilla-
tions throughout this coloured light, like opening of a
lady’s fan; dark heavy clouds’’ (Melbourne Argus, Septem-
ber 1, 1859).
At Mount Gambier, South Australia (37.8S, 140.8E)
‘‘Last night, at about 7 p.m., a brilliant meteor was seen
to shoot through the sky from the S.W. in a N.E. direction,
and when near the horizon, burst like a rocket. Almost
immediately afterwards the rays of an aurora Australis
were most brilliantly visible in the N.E.’’ (Melbourne
Argus, September 1, 1859).
At Adelaide ‘‘A very brilliant meteor was seen towards
the south, which fell in a curve from about 45 deg. eleva-
tion, standing to the eastward. Almost immediately follow-
ing this the glancing rays of a vivid aurora shot up the sky,
at first more fully developed to the west, but afterwards
stretching across the whole of the south from the hills to
the sea. The line worked very badly through the whole
day’’ (Melbourne Argus, September 1, 1859).
In Sydney, Australia ‘‘Yesterday morning at about 10
o’clock, the wires of the electric telegraph were seized with
an unaccountable fit of restiveness; they did not altogether
refuse to work, but acted irregularly, the adjustment of the
instruments altering so frequently that it was almost impos-
sible to get any continuous message through. Everywhere
the instruments were jammed. The wires continued to dis-
play their obstinacy till the evening, when the cause of the
mystery was, to some extent, cleared up. A bright red light
in the south-west quarter of the heavens, made many at
first suspect that a great fire had broken out somewhere,
but the changing hues and forms of light revealed at last
to the initiated the Aurora Australis’’ (The Sydney Morning
Herald, August 30, 1859, page 4).
Beechworth [Victoria, 36.3S, 146.7E]. ‘‘Aurora Aus-
tralis visible for nearly an hour and a half, commencing
about 5.45 p.m., gradually increasing in beauty and bril-
liancy of tint until shortly before 7, when the rays became
gradually indistinct, disappearing at about 7.15 p.m. No
thunder or lightning observed, but during the whole day
the wires strongly affected’’ (Melbourne Argus, September
1, 1859).
‘‘The southern sky was then of a light reddish tint, which
gradually grew deeper till at 7 h. 20 m., it arrived at a max-
imum. The spectacle presented by the southern heavens at
this time was very impressive, the sky being of a deep
blood-red colour’’ (The Sydney Morning Herald, Septem-
ber 1, 1859).
From Moreton Bay [now called Brisbane, 27.5S,
153E], and the farthest northern sighting documented
from Australia. ‘‘Most of our readers saw last week, for
three nights, commencing after sunset and lighting up the
heavens with a gorgeous hue of red, the Southern Aurora.
The difference in the appearance of the Auroras in Queens-
land to that spoken of by Mr. Scott [in Sydney] is, we had
three nights of beauty, brought to a finale early on Satur-
day morning, after the greater space of red light and rays
and visible starts, through the Aurora, lasting with slight
variations for eight hours’’ (The Moreton Bay Courier,
Wednesday, September 7, 1859).
Ship deck logs, archived at the National Archive and
Records Administration (NARA) were kept on both mer-
chant and military ships, filled out by the sailor on watch,
and typically contained information on weather conditions,
sighting of other ships, crew activities, and even observa-
tions of aurora. Many of the US military ships in overcast
Japan missed the auroral displays, however, several in the
Atlantic and the Pacific, at very low geographic latitudes,
noted the aurora. Nearly all the reports were of the red
aurora. The reports included:
‘‘We witnessed the most magnificent display of the auro-
ra boreales (sic) imaginable. It began from NE to NW and
would shoot up to the Zenith at 1[AM on September 2] the
whole firmament was a blaze of Crimson shooting up from
all points of the compass but the most splendid from the
South W. I have not the language to describe it’’ [Messen-
ger, Latitude 49090N; Longitude 67280WNARA, Record
Group 27].
‘‘At 8PM, 28th, a beautiful Crimson aurora or Zodiacal
light is visible, it is whitest to the North but a beautiful
Crimson in the west as if borrowing the sunset to colourish
(sic) shafts of light which flecked the sky from the horizon
up to about 50, of alt [altitude]. By 9 PM 3/5th of the sky
was covered and the apex of the deep blood red cone of
light that tip pass (sic) the constellation Lyra. It continued
all night and to the last [morning of the 29th] retained its
crimson appearance’’ [Arcole, Latitude 41400N; Longitude
46450WNARA, Record Group 27].
‘‘The whole heavens became brilliantly illuminated’’
[Latitude 37240N; Longitude 6551 0W, Savannah,NARA,
Record Group 24].
The ‘‘heaven became illuminated with a crimson glow
passing from the N. and W. to the S. supposed to be the
northern lights’’ [Release, Latitude 35310N; Longitude:
60140W, NARA, Record Group 24].
J.L. Green et al. / Advances in Space Research 38 (2006) 145–154 147
‘‘... during the watch to the N & E was seen an aurora
borealis, brilliantly red’’ [Saranac, Panama, NARA,
Record Group 24].
‘‘The aurora was a ‘‘deep rosy red’’ [Sabine, Latitude
11320N; Longitude 8349 0WNARA, Record Group 24].
As an example of what these observers might be trying
to describe, Fig. 1 shows a photograph of a type A red
aurora observed in Hokkaido, Japan on October 21,
1989. In this example, the deep rosy red aurora was very
diffuse, with little or no structure and was observed to blan-
ket most of the sky similar to that observed by many eye-
witnesses of the great aurora of August 28–29 and
September 2–3, 1859. More recently, Nakazawa et al.
(2004) have cataloged 16 giant low latitude red auroras
as seen from Japan in the span of about 800 years dating
from 1150 AD to the 1859 event. Other catalogs of these
types of events exist (c.f. Jones, 1992). Based on the similar-
ity of all these events is clear is that although the great
auroral event of 1859 may be the largest one recorded it
is by no means a rare event on the time scale of 100–200
years.
3. September 2nd event
Four days later, another massive worldwide auroral
event occurred. The following articles are also eyewitness
accounts, and are even more vivid than what occurred on
August 28.
‘‘The exhibition of the Aurora on Thursday night and
Friday morning, exceeded in brilliancy that of last Sunday
evening; but upon the last occasion it was chiefly confined
to the southern heavens [south of New York City], and
hence was more properly an Aurora Australis than an
Aurora Borealis’’ (New York Times, September 3, 1859).
‘‘During the first display the whole of the northern
hemisphere was as light as though the sun had set an hour
before, and luminous waves rolled up in quick succession
as far as the zenith, some a brilliancy sufficient to cast a
perceptible shadow on the ground’’ (The Times London,
September 6, 1859).
‘‘Some who saw the display attributed it to fires in the
towns about’’ (Rochester Union &Advertizer NY, Friday,
September 2, 1859).
‘‘About 10 [PM] a tremulous flashing up from the east
was observed – soon after a bank-like arc of a circle was
seen in the North, below which, the appearance was very
somber, resembling a very dark cloud. From this arc soon
shot up columns of light toward the zenith. This was imme-
diately succeeded by the most lively and brilliant succession
of flashes, forcibly reminding one of that prophetic scene
described by St. Peter, whose language is – ‘‘Wherein the
heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements
shall melt with fervent heat.’’ This grand and sublime exhi-
bition was succeeded by another brilliant display of col-
umns of light shooting up again from the arc, with a
slight show of the merry dancers. Soon after this the light
gradually faded and ceased to attract much notice’’ (Boston
Transcript, Saturday September 2, 1859).
‘‘When first seen, the aurora omitted a thin pale light,
which flashed up toward the center of the overhanging
arch. Simultaneous with these flashes, long illuminated
lines extended to the same point, which became redder
and redder, till one assumed nearly a crimson color’’ (Bos-
ton Transcript, September 3, 1859).
‘‘The auroral light sometimes is composed of threads
like the silken warp of a web; these sometimes become bro-
ken, and fall to the earth’’ (Providence Daily Post, Rode
Island, September 3, 1859).
‘‘There was another display of the Aurora last night so
brilliant that at about one o’clock ordinary print could
be read by light’’ (The New York Times, New York Her-
ald, Washington Daily National Intelligencer, September
2, 3, 5, 1859).
‘‘It was reserved for our days to have a sage and philos-
opher to make clear to our comprehension the wonderful
mysteries of those lights, which the Scotch know as merry
dancers but with which we are more familiar by their Latin
name of aurora borealis, to show us that they are nothing
more nor less than an industrial exhibition of the upper
air, a silkery (sic) in the clouds, whereat the magic shuttle
flies from horizon to zenith with a speed that leaves elec-
tricity lagging far behind, and to be prepared to exhibit
to the incredulous world a piece of the product of these
heavenly looms... Phenomena are not supposed to have
any reference to things past – only to things to come.
Therefore, the aurora borealis cannot apply to the battle
of Solferino or the peace of Villaranca. It must be connect-
ed with something in the future – war, or pestilence, or
famine. They may be connected in some way with volcanic
eruptions, or earthquakes, or, as has been long supposed,
with icebergs. As philosophers are unable to solve the
Fig. 1. A type A red aurora observed in Hokkaido, Japan on October 21,
1989 (near midnight due magnetic north). The deep rosy red aurora is very
diffuse, with little or no structure and is observed to blanket nearly the
entire sky similar to that observed by eyewitnesses of the great aurora of
August 28–29 and September 2–3, 1859. The dark regions near the bottom
of the image are clouds in this view on the beach over the ocean (courtesy
of Dr. Takashi Maruyama, Japan).
148 J.L. Green et al. / Advances in Space Research 38 (2006) 145–154
problem, why do not the aeronauts try it? Wise and La
Mountain have been threatening transatlantic voyages.
Suppose that, before they start for the other side, they
would ascend in their balloons and try to get a glimpse
of the foundation line of the aurora borealis’’ (New York
Herald, September 5, 1859).
‘‘Aurora appeared, illuminating the city so brightly as to
draw crowds into the streets’’ (New York Times, Septem-
ber 5, 1859).
‘‘But two hours later, when the light, as a whole, was at
its greatest brilliancy, the northern heavens were perfectly
illuminated, with the exception of a few dim and almost
imperceptible white streamers, which passed from the
zenith nearly half way down to the northstar (sic). At that
time almost the whole southern heavens were in a livid red
flame, brightest still in the southeast and southwest.
Streamers of yellow and orange shot up and met and
crossed each other, like the bayonets upon a stack of guns,
in the open space between the constellations Aries, Taurus
and the Head of Medusa – about 15 degrees south of the
zenith. In this manner – alternating great pillars, rolling
cumuli shooting streamers, curdled and wisped and fleecy
waves – rapidly changing its hue from red to orange,
orange to yellow, and yellow to white, and back in the
same order to brilliant red, the magnificent auroral glory
continued its grand and inexplicable movements until the
light of morning overpowered to radiance and it was
lost in the beams of the rising sun’’ (New York Times,
September 3, 1859).
‘‘Early in the evening from the east there came a faint
light, like that preceding the rising moon, while in the west
a delicate crimson seemed to be thrown upwards, as if from
the sun, long since gone down. Later, these strange fires
overran the entire heavens – now separating into streamers,
gathered at the zenith, and forming a glorious canopy –
then spreading evenly like a vapor, shedding on all things
a soft radiance; again, across the sky waves of light would
flit, like the almost undistinguishable ripple produced by
the faintest breeze upon the quiet surface of an inland lake;
a pale green would now cover half the firmament from the
east, while rich crimson met it from the west – then the rud-
dy light would concentrate itself at the zenith, while
beneath it fell in folds of beauty the mild purple and green.
To the east and to the west lay huge fields of luminous
clouds, tinted with a bright rosy flush, wholly unlike that
produced by the rising sun and if possible even more beau-
tiful. Soon, as Everett has beautifully spoken of a some-
what similar scene,’’ the hands of angels shifted the
glorious scenery of the heavens. ‘‘The mass of apparent,
red cloud to the east moved away southward, gradually
failing, while the corresponding red clouds on the west
seemed to sink into a chaos of dark cloud that, with a
fringe of blue, skirted the western horizon. – Sheets of
the same white luminous cloud again illuminated the sky,
producing about the same amount of light as the full
moon, and the night became almost as the day. The aurora
borealis is today the chief topic of conversation, and all
agree that they have seldom or never witnessed so extensive
and remarkable an atmospheric phenomenon’’ (Cincinnati
Daily Commercial, September 1, 1859).
‘‘Half-past eleven. The appearance now is positively
awful. The red glare is over houses, streets, and fields,
and the most dreadful of conflagrations could not cast a
deeper hue abroad’’ (San Francisco Herald, September 5,
1859).
‘‘The whole sky appeared to undulate something like a
field of grain in a high wind; the waters of the Bay reflected
the brilliant hues of the Aurora. Nothing could exceed the
grandeur and beauty of the sight; the effect was almost
bewildering, and was witnessed with mingled feelings of
awe and delight by thousands. Nebulous matter, like that
which furnishes material for meteoric showers, or the zodi-
acal light, and is known to exist in the planetary spaces, is
probably the cause of these displays. He regards the light as
emitted by the friction of the earth, plunging with its atmo-
sphere, through this vapor, the velocity being sufficient,
despite the rarity of the materials, to develop the luminos-
ity’’ (San Francisco Herald, September 5, 1859).
‘‘Large print could no doubt have been easily read, for
we can testify that the time on the face of a watch was eas-
ily legible’’ (Washington Daily National Intelligencer, Sep-
tember 3, 1859).
‘‘On Thursday night last about eleven o’clock our atten-
tion was attracted by the red appearance of the sky in the
N. East, which we at first supposed was the reflection from
a fire in that direction, but it began to spread on both sides
and was pronounced by those who knew, to be the Aurora
Borealis or Northern Light. About half past eleven it began
to assume the appearance of day breaking and in an hour it
was almost as light as day, the stars, which before shown
brightly being invisible; at one o’clock the light began to
fade and in an hour the heavens had assumed their usual
appearance and the stars shown out bright as ever, and,
turned in’’ (Rocky Mountain Gold Reporter, September 3,
1859).
‘‘On the night of [September 1] we were high up on the
Rocky Mountains sleeping in the open air. A little after
midnight we were awakened by the auroral light, so bright
that one could easily read common print. Some of the party
insisted that it was daylight and began the preparation of
breakfast. The light continued until morning, varying in
intensity in different parts of the heavens, and slowly
changing position. We can best describe it as the sky being
overcast with very light cirrus clouds, wafted before a gen-
tle breeze, and lighted up by an immense conflagration. It
had rained for fifty hours before, only ceasing about twelve
hours before the auroral light’’ (Rocky Mountain News,
September 17, 1859).
‘‘It is an indisputable fact that old topers, wholesale con-
sumers of the alcoholic fluid, whose capacious stomachs
could retain an enormous quantity of the ‘‘creature’’ with-
out their heads or legs being in the least affected by it, have
fallen dead drunk last night and last Sunday night, before
they had imbibed their regular allowance, and through no
J.L. Green et al. / Advances in Space Research 38 (2006) 145–154 149
other cause than the mysterious influence upon their sys-
tem of the unexplained electrical phenomenon, shining
overhead’’ (New Orleans Daily Picayune, September 3,
1859).
‘‘The northern sky, for an extent of some forty-five
degrees, was luminous with a mass of red light, from
whence shot up towards the zenith the usual streaks, at
times vivid and beautiful’’ (New Orleans Daily Picayune,
September 3, 1859).
The aurora ‘‘...again appeared in most resplendent bril-
liancy in the northern horizon last evening, being visible for
a while just before and after the hour of midnight. The
fainter or yellow lines of upshooting light could be clearly
distinguished in the bright red illumination which extended
wide around, lighting up the sky in such a manner as led
the unmindful and even some of the fire companies to
suppose that part of the city was about to be burnt
out in a grand conflagration’’ (The New Orleans Bee,
September 2, 1859).
‘‘Singular as it may appear, a gentleman actually killed
three birds with a gun yesterday morning about 1 o’clock,
a circumstance which perhaps never had its like before. The
birds were killed while the beautiful aurora borealis was at
its height, and being a very early species – larks – were, no
doubt, deceived by the bright appearance of everything,
and came forth innocently, supposing it was day’’ (New
Orleans Daily Picayune, September 9, 1859).
‘‘All our exchanges, from the northern coast of the
Island of Cuba (from the southern side we have none so
late,) come to us with glowing descriptions of the recent
Aurora Borealis, which appears to have been as bright in
the tropics as in the northern zones, and far more interest-
ing. The sky was no more, or at least but for a moment,
completely lit up from the horizon to the pole, but the light
came and went, now here, now there, now in this direction,
now in that, and each time varying in outline and brillian-
cy. During the three hours which followed it seems to have
had almost every latitude and longitude possible in its field,
and to have described every possible figure’’ (New Orleans
Daily Picayune, September 7, 1859).
From Melbourne, Australia ‘‘About a quarter before 12,
the higher heavens were the scene of magnificent converg-
ing cones of light, the declination instrument showing a
most remarkable amount of disturbance. The red glare illu-
minated the earth and tinged even the whole of the north-
ern horizon. Subsequently to this the heavens gradually
became suffused with clouds, and the phenomenon disap-
peared from observation’’ (Melbourne Argus, September
3, 1859).
4. Telegraph operations and economic impact
In 1859, 100,000 to 125,000 miles of telegraph lines exist-
ed in the whole world (New York Herald, September 4,
1859). The telegraph was used extensively to transmit
information of all kinds around the US (although the east
coast and west were not directly connected at that time),
Australia, India, and within Europe. In August 1858, the
first transatlantic link became operational for only 20 days
before it failed and a new cable was to be installed by the
end of 1860. Newspapers used the telegraph system to
provide the public with timely news stories as Associated
Press releases of today. Newspaper banners such as ‘‘By
Telegraph’’ and ‘‘The Latest News by Telegraph’’ were
standard feature articles in large city newspapers.
It was widely reported that, beginning in the evening of
August 28th, the telegraph lines were disrupted, and tele-
graph operators were left with lines that were completely
useless. Here are just a few first hand accounts.
‘‘The French telegraph communications at Paris were
greatly affected, and on interrupting the circuit of the con-
ducting wire strong sparks were observed. The same thing
occurred at the same time at all the telegraphic station in
France’’ (The Illustrated London News, September 24,
1859).
‘‘Never in my experience of fifteen years in working tele-
graph lines have I witnessed anything like the extraordi-
nary effect of the Aurora Borealis between Quebec and
Farther Point last night. The line was in most perfect order,
and well skilled operators worked incessantly from 8
o’clock last evening till 1 this morning to get over in an
intelligible form four hundred words of the report per
steamer Indian for the Associated Press, and at the latter
hour so completely were the wires under the influence of
the Aurora Borealis that it was found utterly impossible
to communicate between the telegraph stations, and the
line had to be closed. The same difficulty prevailed as far
south as Washington’’ (Rochester Union &Advertizer,
Tuesday Evening August 30, 1859).
‘‘The New York operator, J.C. Crosson, reported as fol-
lows: On Sunday evening last, at 7-1/2 o’clock, I experi-
enced considerable difficulty in working on account of
the variation of current. Upon looking out the doors I per-
ceived broad rays if light extending from the zenith toward
the horizon in almost every direction. I then concluded the
difficulty arose from the mysterious influence of the Aurora
Borealis’’ (Cincinnati Daily Commercial, September 7,
1859).
‘‘The telegraph operators throughout the east report a
very brilliant display of auroral light, which though very
fine to look at, has as usual greatly hindered the transmis-
sion of messages over the wires’’ (Philadelphia North Amer-
ican and United States Gazette, Monday Morning, Aug. 29,
1859).
‘‘Louisville KY, August 31-The telegraph wires between
this city and New York, as also throughout Canada,
were interrupted by the unusual overcharge of electricity
which always pervades the atmosphere during the
continuance of this phenomenon’’ (The New Orleans Bee,
September 1, 1859).
The second massive auroral storm on September 2, 1859
also caused disturbances in the telegraph system. However,
these eyewitness accounts report the auroral current taking
the place of the galvanic battery.
150 J.L. Green et al. / Advances in Space Research 38 (2006) 145–154
‘‘The wire was then worked for about two hours without
the usual batteries on the auroral current, working better
than with the batteries connected. This is the first instance
on record of more than a word or two having been trans-
mitted with the auroral current’’ (Washington Daily
National Intelligencer, Tuesday, September 6, 1859).
‘‘Who now will dispute the theory that the Aurora Bore-
alis is caused by electricity’’ (Washington Evening Star
News, September 2, 1859).
‘‘During the auroral display on Thursday night in Bos-
ton some curious phenomena were witnessed in connection
with the telegraph wires. The following conversation, says
the Boston Traveler, between the Boston and Portland
operators on the American telegraph line, will give an idea
of the effect of the Aurora Borealis, on the working of the
telegraph wires:
Boston operator, (to Portland operator) – ‘‘Please cut
off your battery entirely from the line for fifteen
minutes.’’
Portland operator – ‘‘Will do so. It is now
disconnected.’’
Boston – ‘‘Mine is disconnected, and we are working
with the auroral current. How do you receive my
writing?’’
Portland – ‘‘Better than with our batteries on. – Current
comes and goes gradually.’’
Boston – ‘‘My current is very strong at times, and we
can work better without the batteries, as the Aurora
seems to neutralize and augment our batteries alternate-
ly, making current too strong at times for our relay mag-
nets. Suppose we work without batteries while we are
affected by this trouble.’’
Portland – ‘‘Very well. Shall I go ahead with business?’’
Boston – ‘‘Yes. Go ahead.’’
‘‘The wire was then worked for about two hours without
the usual batteries, on the auroral current, working better
than with the batteries connected. The current varied,
increasing and decreasing alternately, but by graduating
the adjustment to the current, a sufficiently steady effect
was obtained to work the line very well. This is the first
instance on record of more than a word or two having been
transmitted with the auroral current. The usual effects of
the electric storm were manifested, such as reversing the
poles of the batteries, etc’’ (The Daily Chronicle and Senti-
nel, Augusta, Georgia, Thursday AM, September 8, 1859).
‘‘There were strong currents of electricity observed on
the wires, to which no batteries were attached, and some
extraordinary electrical phenomena, difficulty of explana-
tion, noticed’’ (New Orleans Daily Picayune, Saturday,
September 3, 1859).
‘‘Friday morning last, the morning of the last auroral
borealis, the operators of the National Telegraph office in
Washington City found, on going to their business, a series
of electrical currents, entirely independent of the batteries,
in possession of the wires. These currents seem to have
been manageable, for the operators actually went to work
and send messages from New York to Pittsburg, PA., cor-
rectly without the use of a particle of galvanic battery,
using this independent electricity of the air in the place of
that supplied by the ordinary batteries’’ (New Orleans Dai-
ly Picayune, September 9, 1859).
In addition to the technological issues posed by these
‘earth currents’ entering the telegraph lines, was the very
real potential for direct human injury. The most spectacu-
lar, and now legendary, story is told by Frederick Royce: a
telegraph operator working in Washington DC, at his sta-
tion between 8 and 10 p.m.
‘‘I did not know that the Aurora had made its appear-
ance until 8 or 8 1/2 o’clock. I had been working ‘combina-
tion’ to Richmond, and had great difficulty from the
changing of the current. It seemed as if there was a storm
at ‘Richmond’. Concluding that this was the case, I aban-
doned that wire and tried to work the Northern wire, but
met with the same difficulty. For five or ten minutes I
would have no trouble, then the current would change
and become so weak that it could hardly be felt. It would
then gradually change to a ‘ground’ so strong that I could
not lift the magnet. While the Aurora lasted the same phe-
nomena were observable. There was no rattling or cracking
of the magnet, as is the case in a thunderstorm. I looked at
the paper between the arrestors, but found no holes. Phil-
adelphia divided the circuit at the request of New York,
and we succeeded in getting off what business we had.
The Aurora disappeared a little after 10 o’clock – after
which we had no difficulty, and we worked through to
New York. During the display I was calling Richmond,
and had one hand on the iron plate. Happening to lean
towards the sounder, which is against the wall, my fore-
head grazed a ground-wire which runs down the wall near
the sounder. Immediately, I received a very severe electric
shock, which stunned me for an instant. An old man who
was sitting facing me, and but a few feet distant, said that
he saw a spark of fire jump from my forehead to the sound-
er. The Morse line experienced the same difficulty in work-
ing’’ (New York Times, September 5, 1859).
The August–September 1859 superstorm was unique,
not only in terms of its severity and geographic distribution
across the entire developing world, but because of its wide-
spread impact on telegraphic systems of that time. There
was also far greater commercial and news reportage use
of telegraphy by 1859 since it had become a ‘mature’ and
low-risk telecommunications resource. A simple assessment
of the economic impact of this storm can be made by con-
sidering the fraction of the 1500 domestic telegraph sta-
tions that were affected, the number of hours out of
service, and the estimated normal profitability of a ‘typical’
operator.
The typical telegraph operator produced $75/day to the
company (Scientific American, November 26, 1859) and
the cumulative number of hours of out-of-service operation
for both storm events was August 28–29 (12 h) and Sep-
tember 2–3 (12 h). Not all of the domestic telegraph lines
J.L. Green et al. / Advances in Space Research 38 (2006) 145–154 151
were out of service, based on the records from New Eng-
land and the eastern states; so one might estimate that
not more than half the stations were affected. The product
of these factors leads to $56,000 in seemingly ‘lost’ revenue.
European stations were also affected, however their num-
bers and economic revenue are not known. The number
of lines available in the aggregate sum were 120,000 miles
world-wide, of which the US share was about 25,000 miles,
so that a reasonable estimate might be $56k ·120,000/
25,000 = $270,000 globally. This assumes about the same
number of telegraph stations per mile of line as in the US
(1 station every 17 miles) and the same revenue and outage
factor. Of course, this only assesses the proximate losses by
the telegraph operator for the service.
The problem with this calculation is that, the probable
effect of the aurora on message transmission was that the
message would be re-transmitted later and not canceled,
so one could assume that with the exception of time-critical
messages, there was no actual economic loss to the recipi-
ent. However, there would still be an impact to the tele-
graph company for an unprofitable loss of time by its
work force to auroral interference. The annual salary for
a typical operator was about $1000/year or about $3 per
day. The number of operators that were idled by this
storm, or forced to re-transmit the same message multiple
times, is equal to the number of stations affected, or about
750. Even assuming a full day’s loss of work, this only
amounts to $2200 for domestic operators, and perhaps five
times this for the global community in the economy of
1859.
Combining the revenue loss with the operator labor loss,
the total global impact would not have been more than per-
haps $300,000. This doesn’t sound like a major loss for an
event that produced no other physical damage to the infra-
structure requiring later repairs. What we cannot include,
however, is the collateral impact to users of this global net-
work. These impacts could have included stock market
transactions not made on time, emergency family messages,
and a variety of confirmation messages for meetings and
travel arrangements, to name a few possibilities. Other
than the occasional anecdote reported in the newspapers,
we have no contemporary means to truly gauge the eco-
nomic impact of these two auroral events.
5. Events attributed to the great aurora
It is very difficult, today, to imagine how truly unique
these displays were to the general public. Many of the
accounts mention that no one could recall a more spectacu-
lar aurora. The following reports give some account of the
thoughts of the general public as a result of the great auro-
ral storm in 1859.
‘‘The present generation have listened with wonder and
admiration to the stories their fathers and mothers have
told them of auroras and meteors. They have opened their
ears and mouths and eyes as they heard of stars falling
from the heavens like rain, of the sky at night becoming
read as with blood, and in the day time of its being so dark-
ened that stars were visible. Few have had the opportuni-
ties of witnessing these sublime displays; but on Sunday
night the heavens were arrayed in a drapery more gorgeous
than they have been for years... Such was the aurora, as
thousands witnessed it from housetops and from pave-
ments. Many imagined they heard rushing sounds as if
Aeolus had let loose winds’’ (New York Times, August
30, 1859).
‘‘Crowds of people gathered at the street corners, admir-
ing and commenting upon the singular spectacle. Many
took it to be a sign of some great disaster or important
event, citing numerous instances when such warnings have
been given’’ (New Orleans Daily Picayune, Monday,
August 29, 1859).
Because of their uniqueness, some individuals found
themselves deeply affected either emotionally or intellectu-
ally. The famous American poet William Ross Wallace
(1819–1881) was a well-known and admired contributor
to newspapers and magazines of the time, and penned a
poem about the aurora, which was published in The East
Floridian, September 15, 1859. Here is a short excerpt from
it:
...O ye wonderful shapes
With your streamers of light
Blazing out o’er the earth
From your ramparts of night;
With your strange hazy hues;
With your swift-changing forms,
Light the red-lightning rush
Of fierce tropic storms
O ye terrible shapes!
Yet through all still appear
Yonder love-speaking eyes
Of the far starry sphere;
So ‘mid terror, we still
Can a symbol behold
Of the Heavenly Love
In the flame o’er us rolled;
Evermore,evermore
Though in mantles of fire,
There are pitying smiles
From our God and our Sire
O Lights of the North! As in eons ago,
Not in vain from your home do ye over us glow!
There is also some suggestion that the famous American
painter Frederick Edwin Church (1826–1900) may have
used these aurora as the inspiration for his painting ‘Auro-
ra Borealis’. Biographers note that he was in Labrador and
Newfoundland during the late summer of 1859 doing
research for his painting ‘Icebergs’. It is impossible to imag-
ine that he, as with so many other millions of people, did
not also admire the August–September aurora, and per-
haps use it as the basis for his 1865 painting.
152 J.L. Green et al. / Advances in Space Research 38 (2006) 145–154
While some individuals found themselves inspired by the
aurora, there is evidence that others found themselves great-
ly disturbed by the event, at a time in history when fears of
the end of the Earth were making their rounds in many reli-
gious circles. By September 4, in the minds of some people,
the spate of spectacular aurora spanning an intense one-
week interval took on much more than a simple diversion
from normal daily affairs. A Columbus, Ohio, 16-year-old
girl ‘‘of considerable intelligence and prepossessing appear-
ance’’, who had been taken into custody by the Sheriff of
Ottawa County was particularly effected by the aurora.
‘‘Her agitated state necessitated that she be moved to the
lunatic asylum. The conclusion drawn from this, and no
doubt her utterances, implied that she had become
deranged from viewing the aurora borealis a short time
ago. She was convinced that all of this spectacular auroral
activity meant that the world was soon to come to an end’’
(Harpers Weekly, October 8, 1859)
While artists and poets mused about the cosmos and
what such a spectacle might mean in human terms, other
people living in a more mundane world scrambled to pre-
serve their sanity, and still others found time to comment
on the more humorous aspects of the event.
‘‘To the editor of the Evening Post: I received the speci-
mens of Aurora Borealis which you sent by Moonray’s
Express, and found them to correspond precisely with others
which were collected in this vicinity. Having subjected them
to chemical analysis, I append the result which you will not
hesitate to publish for the advancement of science. [The] last
analysis – Hairs of dog tail. This is conclusive. Mr. Moon-
ray’s dog died a year since, and ascended to the third sphere,
beyond the great cycle. Coming in contact with Canis Major
a terrible conflict ensued, which made the fur fly. In its fall it
was converted into silk, and coming in contact with the rain-
bows and sulphur of lightning, hence its various colors’’
(Cincinnati Daily Commercial, September 5, 1859).
‘‘The influence of the Aurora Borealis has been felt in
the Garden District. We see in the police reports, this
morning, that several denizens of that delightful spot have
been found drunk – many under a strange delusion, having
taken the gutter for their own comfortable beds’’ (The New
Orleans Daily Picayune, Wednesday, September 7, 1859).
6. Explanations of the aurora and scientific progress
The massive world-wide auroral displays begged for bet-
ter explanation of the aurora. Popular explanations of the
ray structure of the aurora included:
Falling matter from erupting volcanoes (Scientific Amer-
ican, November 12, 1859)
‘‘Nebulous matter ... known to exist in planetary
spaces’’ similar to meteors falling into the atmosphere
(San Francisco Herald, September 5, 1859)
Reflected light from icebergs or polar ice (New York
Herald, September 5, 1859; Harper’s Weekly, October
1, 1859)
Scientifically, before this event, many like Loomis
believed that the aurora was a higher altitude version
of lightning (entirely of Earth origin) but the great
auroral event of 1859 marked a new change in thinking.
Loomis (1865) used several nearly simultaneous observa-
tions of the aurora to establish its height. For the
September 2–3, 1859 aurora he concluded that ‘‘the
aurora ... formed a belt of light encircling the northern
hemisphere, extending southward in North America to
latitude 22 1/2, and reaching to an unknown distance
on the north, and it pervaded the entire interval between
the elevation of 50 and 500 miles above the earth’s sur-
face’’. In his report to the Smithsonian (Loomis, 1865)
Loomis stated, ‘‘we are thus led to regard great auroral
displays as no longer an exclusively atmospheric
phenomenon, and as being, to an important extent the
result of the influence of extra-terrestrial forces’’. Even
Carrington stated that the connection between the obser-
vation of the solar white light flare on September 1st
preceding the geomagnetic storm of September 2–3
‘‘may deserve noting’’, but he would not move ‘‘towards
hastily connecting them’’ (Carrington, 1860). More
solar-terrestrial connection data was needed before the
undeniable connection would be established.
The great auroral display not only provided impor-
tant new observations for the scientific community but
helped change public perceptions. As was noted in
many newspapers ‘‘a connection between the northern
lights and forces of electricity and magnetism is now
fully established’’ (Scientific American, October 15,
1859). ‘‘Henceforth no one can be excused if he talks
about the reflection from the polar seas of ice. We have
practical evidence that the aurora is, or contains, the
electrical fluid [current]’’ (Harper’s Weekly, October 1,
1859).
Acknowledgments
The authors are grateful to an anonymous referee for
clearly pointing out the sequence of events surrounding
the authorship of the AJS articles on this storm. In addi-
tion, the authors are grateful to Dr. Peggy Shea for her
constant encouragement. Marc Rothenberg at the Smith-
sonian Institution Archives is acknowledged for his un-
ique insight into Joseph Henry and access to important
archival information. The authors would like to thank
Nancy Gessner and Justin Robinson who worked dili-
gently helping to transcribing first hand accounts of the
great auroras and to Roberta Goldblatt and Carl Min-
kus of the Federal Research Division of the Library of
Congress.
References
Boston Daily Evening Transcript, Issue dated August 29, 1859.
Boston Transcript, Issues dated August 29, August 30, September 2,
September 3, September 5, 1859.
J.L. Green et al. / Advances in Space Research 38 (2006) 145–154 153
Carrington, R.C. Description of a singular appearance seen in the sun on
September 1, 1859. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. XX, 13, 1860.
Cincinnati Daily Commercial, Issues dated August 29, September 1,
September 5, September 7, 1859.
Editors, The great auroral exhibition of August 28th to September 4, 1859,
Am. J. Sci., vol. 28, No. 84, 385–408, 1859.
Editors, The great auroral exhibition of August 28th to September 4, 1859
– 2nd article, Am. J. Sci., Second Series, vol. 29, No. 85, 92–97, 1860a.
Editors, The great auroral exhibition of August 28th to September 4, 1859
– 3rd article, Am. J. Sci., Second Series, vol. 29, No. 86, 249–265,
1860b.
Editors, The great auroral exhibition of August 28th to September 4, 1859 –
4th article, Am. J. Sci., Second Series, vol. 29, No. 87, 386-397, 1860c.
Green, J. L. and S. A. Boardsen, Duration and extent of the great auroral
storm of 1859, Adv. in Space Res. 38, 130–135, 2006.
Harper’s Weekly, Issues dated September 10, October 1, 1859.
Harper’s Weekly, Issue dated October 8, 1859.
Jones, A.V. Historical review of great auroras. Can. J. Phys. 70, 479–487,
1992.
Loomis, E. The great auroral exhibition of August 28th to September 4, 1859
– 5th article. Am. J. Sci. Second Series vol. 30 (No. 88), 79–94, 1860a.
Loomis, E. The great auroral exhibition of August 28th to September 4,
1859 – 6th article. Am. J. Sci. Second Series 30 (90), 339–361, 1860b.
Loomis, E. The great auroral exhibition of August 28th to September 4,
1859 – 7th article. Am. J. Sci. Second Series 32 (94), 71–84, 1861a.
Loomis, E. On the great auroral exhibition of Aug. 28th to Sept. 4, 1859, and
on auroras generally. Am J. Sci. Second Series 32 (96), 318–331, 1861b.
Loomis, E., The aurora borealis, or polar light; its phenomena and laws,
Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution, 208–248, 1865.
Melbourne Argus, Issues dated September 1, September 3, 1859.
Nakazawa, Y., Okada, T., Shiokawa, K., Understanding the ‘‘SEKKI’’
phenomena in Japanese historical literatures based on the modern
science of low-latitude aurora, Earth Planets Space, vol. 56, No. 12,
e41–e44, 2004.
National Archive and Records Administration, Record Group 24, Deck
Logs.
National Archive and Records Administration, Record Group 27,
Records of the Weather Bureau, The Maury Abstract Logs, M1160.
New Orleans Bee, Issues dated September 1, September 7, 1859.
New Orleans Daily Picayune, Issues dated August 29, September 3,
September 7, September 9, 1859.
New York Herald, Issues dated August 29, September 3, September 4,
September 5, 1859.
New York Times, Issues dated August 30, September 2, September 3,
September 5, 1859.
Philadelphia North American and United States Gazette, Issue dated
August 29, 1859.
Providence Daily Post, Issue dated September 3, 1859.
Rochester Advertizer, Issues dated August 30, September 2, 1859.
Rocky Mountain Gold Reporter, Issue dated September 3, 1859.
Rocky Mountain News, Issue dated September 17, 1859.
The Daily Chronicle and Sentinel, Issue dated, September 8, 1859.
The East Floridian, Issue dated September 15, 1859.
The Hobart Town Mercury, Issues dated August 30, September 14, 1859.
The Illustrated London News, Issue dated September 24, 1859.
The Moreton Bay Courier, Issue dated September 7, 1859.
The Sydney Morning Herald, Issues dated August 30, September 1, 1859.
The Times London, Issue dated September 6, 1859.
San Francisco Herald, Issue dated September 5, 1859.
Scientific American, Issues dated October 15, November 12, November
26, 1859.
Washington Daily National Intelligencer, Issues dated August 31,
September 2, September 3, September 5, September 6, 1859.
Washington Evening Star News, Issue dated September 2, 1859.
154 J.L. Green et al. / Advances in Space Research 38 (2006) 145–154
... Recently, from a consideration of an ''ICME in a sheath'' as a storm driver, Liu et al. (2020) obtained a comparable limiting Dst value of * -2000 nT for an extreme geomagnetic storm. (Allen et al. 1989;Yokoyama et al. 1998;Kappenman 2006;Pulkkinen et al. 2012;Boteler 2019): 2 September 1859(Loomis, 1859, 1860, 1861Stewart, 1861;Kimball 1960;Tsurutani et al. 2003;Akasofu and Kamide 2005;Siscoe et al. 2006;Green and Boardsen 2006;Green et al. 2006;Gonzalez et al. 2011;Cliver and Dietrich 2013;Tsurutani et al. 2018) and 14 May 1921(Silverman and Cliver 2001Kappenman 2006;Cliver and Dietrich 2013). Detailed auroral descriptions were available for three other low-latitude aurora events: 29 August 1859 (Loomis, 1859(Loomis, , 1860(Loomis, , 1861Stewart, 1861;Kimball 1960;Green and Boardsen 2006;Green et al. 2006), 4 February 1872 (Silverman 2008), and 25 September 1909 (Silverman 1995 (Hayakawa et al. 2020a). ...
... Recently, from a consideration of an ''ICME in a sheath'' as a storm driver, Liu et al. (2020) obtained a comparable limiting Dst value of * -2000 nT for an extreme geomagnetic storm. (Allen et al. 1989;Yokoyama et al. 1998;Kappenman 2006;Pulkkinen et al. 2012;Boteler 2019): 2 September 1859(Loomis, 1859, 1860, 1861Stewart, 1861;Kimball 1960;Tsurutani et al. 2003;Akasofu and Kamide 2005;Siscoe et al. 2006;Green and Boardsen 2006;Green et al. 2006;Gonzalez et al. 2011;Cliver and Dietrich 2013;Tsurutani et al. 2018) and 14 May 1921(Silverman and Cliver 2001Kappenman 2006;Cliver and Dietrich 2013). Detailed auroral descriptions were available for three other low-latitude aurora events: 29 August 1859 (Loomis, 1859(Loomis, , 1860(Loomis, , 1861Stewart, 1861;Kimball 1960;Green and Boardsen 2006;Green et al. 2006), 4 February 1872 (Silverman 2008), and 25 September 1909 (Silverman 1995 (Hayakawa et al. 2020a). ...
... (Allen et al. 1989;Yokoyama et al. 1998;Kappenman 2006;Pulkkinen et al. 2012;Boteler 2019): 2 September 1859(Loomis, 1859, 1860, 1861Stewart, 1861;Kimball 1960;Tsurutani et al. 2003;Akasofu and Kamide 2005;Siscoe et al. 2006;Green and Boardsen 2006;Green et al. 2006;Gonzalez et al. 2011;Cliver and Dietrich 2013;Tsurutani et al. 2018) and 14 May 1921(Silverman and Cliver 2001Kappenman 2006;Cliver and Dietrich 2013). Detailed auroral descriptions were available for three other low-latitude aurora events: 29 August 1859 (Loomis, 1859(Loomis, , 1860(Loomis, , 1861Stewart, 1861;Kimball 1960;Green and Boardsen 2006;Green et al. 2006), 4 February 1872 (Silverman 2008), and 25 September 1909 (Silverman 1995 (Hayakawa et al. 2020a). In addition, such newly-found auroral observations have been brought to bear on the events of August 1859 (Hayakawa et al. 2018c(Hayakawa et al. , 2019b, September 1859 Hayakawa et al. 2018cHayakawa et al. , 2019bHayakawa et al. , 2020cHayakawa et al. , 2022 (Fig. 37) and a map of locations in East Asia from which that aurora was reported (Fig. 38) are representative of the recent auroral research. ...
Preprint
Full-text available
We trace the evolution of research on extreme solar and solar-terrestrial events from the 1859 Carrington event to the rapid development of the last twenty years. Our focus is on the largest observed/inferred/theoretical cases of sunspot groups, flares on the Sun and Sun-like stars, coronal mass ejections, solar proton events, and geomagnetic storms. The reviewed studies are based on modern observations, historical or long-term data including the auroral and cosmogenic radionuclide record, and Kepler observations of Sun-like stars. We compile a table of 100- and 1000-year events based on occurrence frequency distributions for the space weather phenomena listed above. Questions considered include the Sun-like nature of superflare stars and the existence of impactful but unpredictable solar "black swans" and extreme "dragon king" solar phenomena that can involve different physics from that operating in events which are merely large.
... Open squares on the smooth curve of black points given by Eq. (11) are based on the most-equatorward latitude at which aurora was observed overhead (assuming a peak altitude of 400 km). The vertical dashed lines indicate estimates of Dst for 100-and 1000-year storms (1861), Bartels (1937), Kimball (1960), Tsurutani et al. (2003, Cliver and Svalgaard (2004), Siscoe et al. (2006), Green and Boardsen (2006), Green et al. (2006), Tyasto et al. (2009), Cliver andDietrich (2013), Hayakawa et al. (2016Hayakawa et al. ( , 2018cHayakawa et al. ( , 2019bHayakawa et al. ( , 2020cHayakawa et al. ( , 2022; (5) Mursula (2005, 2006), Hayakawa et al. (2021); (10) Mursula (2005, 2006), Hayakawa et al. (2020a), (11) Allen et al. (1989), Rich and Denig (1992), Hayakawa (2020) (a) While the date of the observation from Honolulu is most likely 1 September, it is not given explicitly in the report. ...
... Open squares on the smooth curve of black points given by Eq. (11) are based on the most-equatorward latitude at which aurora was observed overhead (assuming a peak altitude of 400 km). The vertical dashed lines indicate estimates of Dst for 100-and 1000-year storms (1861), Bartels (1937), Kimball (1960), Tsurutani et al. (2003, Cliver and Svalgaard (2004), Siscoe et al. (2006), Green and Boardsen (2006), Green et al. (2006), Tyasto et al. (2009), Cliver andDietrich (2013), Hayakawa et al. (2016Hayakawa et al. ( , 2018cHayakawa et al. ( , 2019bHayakawa et al. ( , 2020cHayakawa et al. ( , 2022; (5) Mursula (2005, 2006), Hayakawa et al. (2021); (10) Mursula (2005, 2006), Hayakawa et al. (2020a), (11) Allen et al. (1989), Rich and Denig (1992), Hayakawa (2020) (a) While the date of the observation from Honolulu is most likely 1 September, it is not given explicitly in the report. ...
... In each case, there is evidence that auroral activity occurs near the time of a minimum in the low-latitude geomagnetic horizontal (H) component. For the September 1859 event, the sharp downward spike in the Colaba magnetogram in Fig. 40 occurred in concert with auroral activity over a wide range of latitudes in North America (Green and Boardsen 2006) and South America (Hayakawa et al. 2020c). The red bar denoting the interval of intense auroral activity in the American sector bounds the timings of the deep sharp excursion in Colaba and strong magnetic variations observed in Rome (Secchi 1859;Blake et al. 2020) and Ekaterinburg (Tyasto et al. 2009). ...
Article
Full-text available
We trace the evolution of research on extreme solar and solar-terrestrial events from the 1859 Carrington event to the rapid development of the last twenty years. Our focus is on the largest observed/inferred/theoretical cases of sunspot groups, flares on the Sun and Sun-like stars, coronal mass ejections, solar proton events, and geomagnetic storms. The reviewed studies are based on modern observations, historical or long-term data including the auroral and cosmogenic radionuclide record, and Kepler observations of Sun-like stars. We compile a table of 100- and 1000-year events based on occurrence frequency distributions for the space weather phenomena listed above. Questions considered include the Sun-like nature of superflare stars and the existence of impactful but unpredictable solar "black swans" and extreme "dragon king" solar phenomena that can involve different physics from that operating in events which are merely large.
... brought interference to telegraph systems, as did the storm of October 1903 (e.g., Hayakawa, Ribeiro, et al., 2020;Ribeiro et al., 2016) and the Carrington event of September 1859 (e.g., Boteler, 2006;Green et al., 2006). ...
... The Carrington event of September 1859 is recognized as a superstorm (e.g., Cliver & Dietrich, 2013;Hayakawa, Ebihara, Wills, et al., 2019). It brought widespread interference to telegraph systems (e.g., Boteler, 2006) and caused low-latitude aurora (e.g., Green et al., 2006), but its absolute intensity is uncertain. Only one low-latitude observatory, that of Colaba (CLA), India, reported a complete record of the storm (Tsurutani et al., 2003). ...
Article
Full-text available
Past and possible future magnetic storm intensities are investigated. As part of this work, a dataset is developed of the most intense and second most intense storms for each of the past 11 solar cycles (1902–2016)—augmenting a traditional dataset that only covers the past 6 solar cycles (1957–2016) with recently published intensities for several magnetic superstorms and with new storm intensity estimates, reported here and derived from historical magnetic observatory records. These data are analyzed using statistical methods that provide estimates of the probability of future magnetic superstorms. A storm as intense as that of March 1989, which caused widespread disruption of technological systems and an electricity blackout in Québec, Canada, is predicted to occur, on average, about every four solar cycles. This is twice as often as estimated using only the traditional shorter dataset. A once-per-century storm is estimated to be substantially more intense than that of March 1989.
... When reaching the Earth, SEPs can have a dramatic impact on modern communication, navigation and power systems, satellite life expectancy, the health of astronauts, and aircraft operations 2,3 . The famous Carrington event was one of the strongest known solar storms that hit the Earth in September 1859 CE, leading to a widespread failure of the telegraph system and observable auroras all over the world 3,4 . If this, or an even larger event, occurred today the impact on global society and economy would be catastrophic 3,5 . ...
Article
Full-text available
The Sun sporadically produces eruptive events leading to intense fluxes of solar energetic particles (SEPs) that dramatically disrupt the near-Earth radiation environment. Such events have been directly studied for the last decades but little is known about the occurrence and magnitude of rare, extreme SEP events. Presently, a few events that produced measurable signals in cosmogenic radionuclides such as ¹⁴ C, ¹⁰ Be and ³⁶ Cl have been found. Analyzing annual ¹⁴ C concentrations in tree-rings from Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, Russia, and the USA we discovered two spikes in atmospheric ¹⁴ C occurring in 7176 and 5259 BCE. The ~2% increases of atmospheric ¹⁴ C recorded for both events exceed all previously known ¹⁴ C peaks but after correction for the geomagnetic field, they are comparable to the largest event of this type discovered so far at 775 CE. These strong events serve as accurate time markers for the synchronization with floating tree-ring and ice core records and provide critical information on the previous occurrence of extreme solar events which may threaten modern infrastructure.
... When reaching the Earth, SEPs can have a dramatic impact on modern communication, navigation and power systems, satellite life expectancy, the health of astronauts, and aircraft operations 2,3 . The famous Carrington event was one of the strongest known solar storms that hit the Earth in September 1859 CE, leading to a widespread failure of the telegraph system and observable auroras all over the world 3,4 . If this, or an even larger event, occurred today the impact on global society and economy would be catastrophic 3,5 . ...
Preprint
Full-text available
The Sun sporadically produces eruptive events leading to intense fluxes of solar energetic particles (SEPs) that dramatically disrupt the near-Earth radiation environment. Such events are directly studied for the last decades but little is known about the occurrence and magnitude of rare, extreme SEP events. Presently, a few events that produced measurable signals in cosmogenic radionuclides such as ¹⁴ C, ¹⁰ Be and ³⁶ Cl have been found. Analyzing annual ¹⁴ C concentrations in tree-rings from Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, Russia, and the USA we discovered two spikes in atmospheric ¹⁴ C corresponding to 7176 and 5259 BCE. The ~ 2% increases of atmospheric ¹⁴ C recorded for both events exceed all previously known ¹⁴ C peaks but after correction for the geomagnetic field, they are comparable to the largest event of this type discovered so far at 775 CE. These strong events serve as accurate time markers for the synchronization with floating tree-ring and ice core records and provide critical information on the previous occurrence of extreme solar events which threaten modern infrastructure.
... Low-and mid-latitude auroras (LMLAs) are usually associated with intense space weather events, frequently caused by coronal mass ejection (CME) (Gonzalez et al., 1994;Vázquez et al., 2006). This was the case with well-studied extreme space weather events such as those that occurred in September 1770 (Hayakawa et al. 2017a); the Carrington event in August/September 1859 Humble 2006;Tsurutani et al., 2003;Cliver and Dietrich, 2013;Hayakawa et al., 2019a); the storm on 1872 February (Hayakawa et al., 2018;Silverman, 2008); and the extreme events in September 1909 (Hayakawa et al., 2019b(Hapgood, 2019Silverman and Cliver, 2001;Love et al., 2019) or March 1989(Allen et al., 1989 resulting in extreme magnetic disturbances and auroral displays at very low latitudes. It is important to note that extreme space weather events of these magnitudes can provoke important impacts on our highly technologically dependent society, especially in activities related to aviation, GPS signals, radio communication, and electric power grids (Baker et al., 2008). ...
Article
Aurora observations are an uncommon phenomenon at low and mid latitudes that, at the end of the 18th century, were not well known and understood. Low and mid geomagnetic latitude aurora observations provide information about episodes of intense solar storms associated with flares and outstanding coronal mass ejection (CME) and about the variation of the geomagnetic field. However, for many observers at mid and low latitudes, the features of a northern light were unknown, so they could easily report it as a phenomenon without explanation. In this work, we found that an earlier mid geomagnetic latitude aurora was observed in Beauséjour, close to Béziers (43∘19′ N, 3∘13′ E), France, by the abbot François Rozier. He was a meticulous botanist, doctor and agronomist with a special interest in atmospheric phenomena. On 15 August 1780, from 19:55 to 20:07 (Universal Time), François Rozier observed a “phosphoric cloud”. A careful analysis of the report indicates that he was reporting an auroral event. The recovery of auroral events at low and mid latitude during the 1780s is very useful for shedding light on solar activity during this period because there are few records of sunspot observations.
... For instance, comparing with the average Aa index of about 20 nT, the geomagnetic Aa index is up to 348 nT during the Quebec event (happened in March 1989) and 299 nT during the Halloween event (happened in October 2003). Such extreme geomagnetic storms can induce natural disasters and cause auroras in lowlatitude region (Green et al., 2006). The Quebec event caused the electric power system failure in a large area in Canada (Horne et al., 2013;Schrijver et al., 2015) and the satellite tracking problems during the geomagnetic storms time. ...
Article
Full-text available
In this work, the occurrence probability of extreme geomagnetic storms is estimated by applying extreme value theory to the geomagnetic activity Aa index. The Aa index has 172 years observation time span, which is much longer than other geomagnetic indices, and thus is more suitable for analysis for rarely occurred extreme geomagnetic storms. We use two newly developed extreme value theory methods, block maxima method and peak over threshold, and find that the extreme geomagnetic storm that happened in March 1989 may happen once per century. This result implies that we should pay more attention to such extreme geomagnetic storms that can cause space weather hazards.
Thesis
Solar Energetic Particles (SEPs) are an important aspect of space weather. SEP events posses a high destructive potential, since they may cause disruptions of communication systems on Earth and be fatal to crew members onboard spacecrafts and, in extreme cases, harmful to people onboard high altitude flights. However, currently the research community lacks efficient tools to predict such hazardous threat and its potential impacts. Such a tool is a first step for humanity to improve its preparedness for SEP events and ultimately to be able to mitigate their effects. The main goal of this project is to develop a computational tool that will have the forecasting capability and can be the basis for operational system that will provide live information on the current potential threats posed by SEP based on the observations of the Sun. The complexity of the problem is reflected in the level of sophistication of the product of development. The tool comprises several numerical models, which are designed to simulate different physical aspects of SEPs. The background conditions in the interplanetary medium, the magnetic field in particular, play a defining role in the transport and acceleration of SEPs, and are simulated with the state-of-the-art MHD solver, BATS-R-US. The newly developed particle code, M-FLAMPA, simulates the actual transport and acceleration of SEPs and is coupled to the MHD code. The special property of SEPs, the tendency to follow magnetic lines of force, is fully taken advantage of in the computational model, which substitutes a complicated 3-D model with a multitude of 1-D models. This approach significantly simplifies computations and improves the time performance of the overall model. Another aspect of SEP physics, the production of energetic particles during solar flares is also explored.
Article
Full-text available
Geomagnetic storms—triggered by the interaction between Earth’s magnetosphere and interplanetary magnetic field, driven by solar activity—are important for many Earth-bound aspects of life. Serious events may impact the electroenergetic infrastructure, but even weaker storms generate noticeable irregularities in the density of ionospheric plasma. Ionosphere electron density gradients interact with electromagnetic radiation in the radiofrequency domain, affecting sub- and trans-ionospheric transmissions. The main objective of the manuscript is to find key features of the storm-induced plasma density behaviour irregularities in regard to the event’s magnitude and general geomagnetic conditions. We also aim to set the foundations for the mid-latitude ionospheric plasma density now-casting irregularities. In the manuscript, we calculate the GPS+GLONASS-derived rate of TEC (total electron content) index (ROTI) for the meridional sector of 10–20∘ E, covering the latitudes between 40 and 70∘ N. Such an approach reveals equatorward spread of the auroral TEC irregularities reaching down to mid-latitudes. We have assessed the ROTI performance for 57 moderate-to-severe storms that occurred during solar cycle 24 and analyzed their behaviors in regard to the geomagnetic conditions (described by Kp, Dst, AE, Sym-H and PC indices).
Article
Timothy Duckenfield and Anne-Marie Broomhall report from a meeting that explored the synergy between solar and stellar flares.
Article
Full-text available
We have developed simple models to assess the economic impacts to the current satellite resource caused by the worst-case scenario of a hypothetical superstorm event occurring during the next sunspot cycle. Although the consequences may be severe, our worse-case scenario does not include the complete failure of the entire 937 operating satellites in the current population, which have a replacement value of ∼$170–230 billion, and supporting a ∼$90 billion/year industry. Our estimates suggest a potential economic loss of <$70 billion for lost revenue (∼$44 billion) and satellite replacement for GEO satellites (∼$24 billion) caused by a ‘once a century’ single storm similar to the 1859 superstorm. We estimate that 80 satellites (LEO, MEO, and GEO) may be disabled as a consequence of a superstorm event. Additional impacts may include the failure of many of the GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo satellite systems in MEO. Approximately 97 LEO satellites, which normally would not have re-entered for many decades, may prematurely de-orbit by ca 2021 as a result of the temporarily increased atmospheric drag caused by a superstorm event occurring in ca. 2012. The $100 billion International Space Station may lose significant altitude, placing it in critical need for re-boosting by an amount potentially outside the range of typical Space Shuttle operations, which are in any case scheduled to end in 2010. Currently, the ability to forecast extreme particle events and coronal mass ejections, or predict their fluences and geoseverity in the 24-h prior to the event, appears to be no better than 50/50. Our analysis of economic impacts is a first attempt at estimation whose approach will suggest ways in which better estimates may eventually be obtained.
Article
Full-text available
The great geomagnetic storm of August 28 through September 3, 1859 is, arguably, the greatest and most famous space weather event in the last two hundred years. For the first time observations showed that the sun and aurora were connected and that auroras generated strong ionospheric currents. A significant portion of the world’s 200,000 km of telegraph lines were adversely affected, many of which were unusable for 8 h or more which had a real economic impact. In addition to published scientific measurements, newspapers, ship logs, and other records of that era provide an untapped wealth of first hand observations giving time and location along with reports of the auroral forms and colors. At its height, the aurora was described as a blood or deep crimson red that was so bright that one “could read a newspaper by.” At its peak, the Type A red aurora lasted for several hours and was observed to reach extremely low geomagnetic latitudes on August 28–29 (∼25°) and on September 2–3 (∼18°). Auroral forms of all types and colors were observed below 50° latitude for ∼24 h on August 28–29 and ∼42 h on September 2–3. From a large database of ground-based observations the extent of the aurora in corrected geomagnetic coordinates is presented over the duration of the storm event.
Article
Occurrences of great auroras of the past are discussed together with accounts of visual and instrumental observations. Earlier observations revealed the extraordinarily great heights and unusual spectral characteristics of such displays as well as documenting their penetration to low latitudes. Theoretical studies have led to an understanding of the observed unusual spectroscopic characteristics including their bright red colour and the abnormal vibrational and rotational structure in the molecular bands observed in high-altitude forms. As a result of the increasing sophistication of observing techniques, the phenomena associated with great auroras have passed beyond the characterization of optical and magnetic effects, to include information on associated changes in the composition of the neutral upper atmosphere and effects in the ionosphere. In more recent times, studies have led to increased understanding of the magnetospheric processes that produce these auroras.
Article
SEKKI" phenomena often appear in the Japanese historical literatures as distinct red emission in the nocturnal sky. The Japanese word "SEKKI" means the red atmosphere. We compile 16 events of SEKKI for 12–19th centuries in the literatures. In order to understand the SEKKI phenomena, we compared 2 events of SEKKI on February 21, 1204, and September 17, 1770, with the characteristics of low-latitude auroras studied recently by modern scientific methods. We conclude that these historical SEKKI phenomena are probably giant low-latitude auroras.