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1872 Chapman-Silverman Storm: A window into solar impact on modern life
A Japanese auroral drawing showing an observation at Okazaki on 4 February 1872, as reproduced with courtesy of Shounji Temple.
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1872 Chapman-Silverman Storm: A window into solar impact on modern life
by Riko Seibo
Nagoya, Japan (SPX) Dec 04, 2023

In early November of this year, the night skies were adorned with aurora borealis, visible as far south as Italy and Texas, signaling the impacts of a solar coronal mass ejection on Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere. This event, while significant, pales in comparison to the February 1872 Chapman-Silverman storm, one of the largest magnetic storms in recorded history. An international team of scientists has now unveiled a comprehensive study of this colossal event, which had far-reaching terrestrial impacts.

The study, conducted by a team from nine countries, provides in-depth insights into the solar origins and the extensive effects of the 1872 storm on Earth. As highlighted by Designated Assistant Professor Hayakawa, the lead author of the study, "The longer the power supply could be cut off, the more society, especially those living in urban areas, will struggle to cope." This comment underscores the vulnerability of our technologically dependent society to such geomagnetic phenomena.

The modern world's reliance on power grids, communication systems, and satellites makes us susceptible to the detrimental impacts of large geomagnetic storms. Hayakawa further notes the potential challenges in maintaining everyday life without these infrastructures, emphasizing the gravity of the situation.

The Chapman-Silverman storm of February 1872 is now recognized alongside other significant geomagnetic storms such as the Carrington storm of September 1859 and the New York Railroad storm of May 1921. During the 1872 event, telegraph communications were severely disrupted, including on the submarine cable between Bombay (Mumbai) and Aden, and the landline between Cairo and Khartoum.

The study, led by Nagoya University in Japan, the US National Solar Observatory, and the Royal Observatory of Belgium, saw 22 scientists collaboratively examining the storm. They analyzed sunspot records from Belgian and Italian archives and used geomagnetic field measurements from various locations, including Bombay (Mumbai), Tiflis (Tbilisi), and Greenwich. These analyses helped assess the temporal evolution and intensity of the storm.

Interestingly, the 1872 storm likely originated from a medium-sized, complex sunspot group near the solar disk center. This finding is crucial as it suggests that even moderate sunspot groups can trigger extreme magnetic storms. The team's research extended to examining over 700 auroral records in multiple languages, revealing that the storm's auroral displays illuminated the night sky from the polar regions to as far as approximately 20 in latitude in both hemispheres.

Hayakawa encapsulates the study's significance by stating, "Our findings confirm the Chapman-Silverman storm in February 1872 as one of the most extreme geomagnetic storms in recent history. Its size rivalled those of the Carrington storm in September 1859 and the NY Railroad storm in May 1921." This recognition of the Chapman-Silverman storm's magnitude highlights the need for ongoing research and preparation for such space weather events.

The study not only reaffirms the magnitude of the Chapman-Silverman storm but also underscores the importance of preserving and analyzing historical records. As Hayakawa remarks, "Such extreme events are rare. On the one hand, we are fortunate to have missed such superstorms in modern time. On the other hand, the occurrence of three such superstorms in 6 decades shows that the threat to modern society is real."

With recent auroral displays observed in northern Greece and the northern US, and the Sun approaching the maximum of Solar Cycle 25, expected around 2025, the study serves as a timely reminder of the potential risks posed by geomagnetic storms. As the world increasingly depends on technological infrastructure, understanding and mitigating the impacts of such events becomes ever more crucial.

Research Report:The Extreme Space Weather Event of February 1872: Sunspots, Magnetic Disturbance, and Auroral Displays

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Nagoya University
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