On 1 September 1859, the sun emitted a large solar flare releasing approximately 6 × 1025 joules of energy (i.e., a massive amount). Telegraph systems all over the world — which were connected by copper wires — failed, in some cases giving telegraph operators electric shocks; in other cases, cascades of sparks spontaneously erupted from telegraph lines. Amazingly, some telegraph equipment that wasn’t plugged in continued to receive messages. In the days that followed the solar storm, which came to be known as the Carrington Event, auroras were seen around the world — including as far south as the Caribbean and Ecuador. Fireballs were spotted in the sky. Equipment connected to this “Victorian internet” caught fire. What might happen to today’s internet if the sun were to emit another solar flare? What does this mean for risk management?
On 23 July 2012, there was a similar coronal mass ejection (CME) released by the sun, only this time the CME narrowly missed Earth. Had the CME occurred just seven days earlier, it would have directly hit planet Earth. According the the US Geological Survey, such an event has a 6%–7% chance of happening in the next 10 years. NASA scientist Daniel Baker calculates that there is a 12% chance that the earth will encounter another Carrington Event within the next 10 years.