In recent times, the worst solar storm on record occurred on September 2nd, 1859. On that day, auroras were seen as far south as Havana, Cuba, and the ambient electrical current in the atmosphere was enough to actually run telegraph wires without any human-provided electricity!
“We observed the influence upon the lines at the time of commencing business — 8 o’clock — and it continued so strong up to 9 1/2 as to prevent any business from being done, excepting by throwing off the batteries at each end of the line and working by the atmospheric current entirely!” the astonished telegraph operators of Boston wrote in a statement that appeared in The New York Times later that week.
The Boston operator told his Portland, Maine counterpart, “Mine is also disconnected, and we are working with the auroral current. How do you receive my writing?” Portland responded, “Better than with our batteries on,” before finally concluding with Yankee pluck, “Very well. Shall I go ahead with business?” - ( Wired )
Amazing stuff! In 1859, the telegraph and electrical lines were all that could be affected by such a giant solar storm, but in 2009, if such an event were to happen again, it is estimated that the damage caused to the electrical grid on Earth, and nearly every electrical device, would total upwards of ONE TRILLION dollars. That is a ridiculous figure.
Scientists have gathered data from ice cores, which trap nitrites created when these geomagnetic storms send charged particles which hit our nitrogen-rich atmosphere, and found that in the 500 years past for which we have data, the 1859 event was twice as powerful as any other.
The wonderful thing about solar storms is that they are so beautiful.