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A Scary 13th: 20 Years Ago, Earth Was Blasted with a Massive Plume of Solar Plasma [Slide Show]

Violent space weather treated many to a fantastic display of colorful auroras, but damaged power grids left six million Canadians in the dark

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THE VIEW FROM ABOVE

A crew member on board the space shuttle Discovery took this shot of the aurora australis (southern lights) in 1991. Such photos are difficult to take because they require special film that can only be used on short-duration orbital flights; space radiation can ruin the imaging material on longer missions.....[ More ]

VULNERABLE

Even more powerful than the March 13, 1989, incident was the geomagnetic superstorm of 1859 called the Carrington event, named after the English astronomer who noticed bright flashes from the sun as he counted sunspots.....[ More ]

NORTHERN LIGHTS--OUT

Geomagnetic storms can trip up power distribution, and none have (yet) more dramatically than the March 13, 1989, event that left six million Canadians without electricity. Starting at 2:44 A.M. local time, a cascading series of failures at substations knocked out half of Quebec's power generation in less than a minute, says astrophysicist Sten Odenwald in his book The 23rd Cycle.....[ More ]

RAGING SUN

Looplike solar prominences [bottom right] that erupt from the sun's surface—occasionally for days on end—can sever, launching a coronal mass ejection (CME), although CMEs can burst forth of their own accord, as well.....[ More ]

SUNBURST, AND A NEAR MISS

Flares flash from the sun and send bursts of energy and matter flying at Earth. The most massive solar flare ever recorded broke from the sun's surface on November 4, 2003, during a tumultuous season popularly known as the Halloween storms.....[ More ]

MAGNETIC SHIELDING

Life could not exist on Earth were it not for the deflection of solar radiation and plasmas by the magnetic field generated by the planet's molten iron core. Solar wind—the constant stream of particles emitted by the sun into space—contours the Earth's field like water flowing around an object.....[ More ]

COLORFUL PORTENTS

An eyewitness snapped this aurora shot in Ontario, Canada, the night of the 1989 event. Highly charged and magnetized particles from the sun colliding with molecules in Earth's atmosphere produce these crimson, green and magenta ribbons in the sky.....[ More ]

EARTH ALIGHT

The geomagnetic storm of March 13, 1989, knocked out power to six million people, although it provided quite a light show in the process. The green globe [left] shows the gigantic aurora over Antarctica as seen from the now-defunct Dynamics Explorer 1 satellite on March 14.....[ More ]

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