Evidence of Solar flares bigger than Carrington event in the past millenium

Posted: April 28, 2016 by tallbloke in ozone, Solar physics, solar system dynamics

sun-planetFrom Science Nordic:

The Sun regularly, spews out solar flares–violent explosions that hurl enormous amounts of plasma into space, disrupting satellites and causing power failures here on Earth.

But these outbreaks are still small compared with the gigantic eruptions on other stars. These so-called ‘superflares’ can be up to 10,000 times bigger than the largest solar flares from our own sun.

Now new research suggests that our sun might be capable of forming similarly large superflares every 1000 years, and this could have devastating consequences, says lead-author Christoffer Karoff, from the Department of Geoscience, Aarhus University, Denmark.

“We know that these electrical particles from the Sun destroy the ozone layer. It’s suggested that the major flares that we know of led to a reduction in the ozone layer of five per cent. But no one really knows what will happen at this [superflare] level,” says Karoff.

The study is published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

Sun can create ‘superflares’
British astronomer Richard Carrington, witnessed the largest solar flare ever recorded on Earth in 1859. It damaged telegraph wires and ice cores even suggest that it damaged the ozone layer.

The event was later named the Carrington Storm, and it is an example of how damaging these severe storms can be.

But a study in 2015 suggested that even bigger solar flares have reached Earth in the past. The scientists behind this study found evidence of two massive solar storms in tree rings dating back 1,000 years-at least five times more powerful than any other solar storm on record.

The new study measured the magnetic field of superflare stars out in space. They calculated that the Sun’s magnetic field is indeed capable of producing ‘small’ superflares–100 times the size of a Carrington Storm.

“We definitely hadn’t expected to find superflare stars with equally weak magnetic fields as our own. This means that the Sun could create a superflare and it’s a very scary thought,” says Karoff.

No one is safe from a large coronal mass ejection
Peter Stauning from the Danish Meteorological Institute is impressed with the new results.

“I think it is a beautiful and very insightful article,” says Stauning, who studies space weather but was not involved in the new study. It has implications for understanding solar behavior and the impacts here on Earth.

Solar storms can damage the ozone layer, which protects us from harmful ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. Without it, the Earth would be exposed to dangerous levels of cancer-causing UV-radiation. (Photo: Shutterstock)
But what can we expect if such a massive solar flare struck the Earth?

First there would be a blackout of all radio signals, says Stauning. Then satellites would be paralyzed and followed by failure in communications, GPS, and power.

Ozone layer damaged with serious consequences
We have never observed a superflare here on Earth, so scientists do not know exactly what to expect, should one occur. One major consequence could be damage to the ozone layer, says Karoff.

“The ozone layer protects us from ultraviolet radiation from the sun, and we would receive dramatically more radiation and see more cases of skin cancer if it is reduced. But it’s actually a huge unanswered question–what will an increase in radiation mean, here on Earth.”

Scientists could examine the two large solar storms identified in the 1,000-year-old tree ring record for more answers, says Karoff.

Full article

  1. ren says:

    Composite Mg II index (‘Bremen composite’). Values indicated are the numbers of days for each satellite contributing to the composite index. Missing values were filled using scaled F30 cm radio flux data (http://solar.nro.nao.ac.jp/norp/html/daily_flux.html). The black curve shows the timeseries twice smoothed with a 55-day boxcar. Bottom panel shows the estimated uncertainty of the composite Mg II index. Higher uncertainties are due to the interpolated F30cm flux values. The solar minimum to maximum change in this Mg II index is about 14% of the long-term mean as derived from the smoothed Mg II time series. This means that the uncertainty of the Mg II index with respect to a typical solar cycle change is about 2% and higher.

    Solar Cycle Observed by Nobeyama Radio Polarimeters (, Toyokawa Radio Polarimeters, and Tokyo Obs. Radio Polarimeter)

  2. ren says:

    Contrary to appearances, each more powerful solar flare in periods of low solar activity may cause a stronger reaction of the Earth.

  3. E.M.Smith says:

    Since there have not been mass extinctions every few thousand years, nor historical mass deaths from radiation in the 5000 years of history, I presume the only real risk is to things electrical and not biological. ..

  4. Jason Calley says:

    @ E.M.Smith

    Electric eels might be endangered. 🙂

  5. linneamogren says:

    They are most active during solar sunspot maximum but I’m sure its a very small chance of such a massive flare from our sun and if its really capable there is not much to be done outside of better prediction.

  6. JKrob says:

    Hmmm…two things:

    1) It was my understanding that the ozone layer is created *by* the UV energy from the Sun. How would a solar flare/CME ‘destroy’ the ozone layer?

    2) How, pray tell, are solar flare/CMEs detected in tree rings?

    granted, I didn’t read the article link but…color me skeptical

  7. linneamogren says:


    Solar flares damage the ozone by a bombardment of protons through a process of positively charged H atoms. Mostly in the highest regions of the ozone. The ozone is created by three oxygen atoms form into one molecule. UV splits the molecule to a singular O atom but its repaired almost instantly unless a solar flare strikes with a proton barrage.

  8. Richard111 says:


    Interesting to read records of ancient man and his sun worshipping efforts– Stonehenge etc.
    Maybe something scared him big time.

  9. Oldmank says:

    @EMSmith, JKrob, Richard111:

    There have been mass ‘irruptions/civilisation terminations’ in the past, circa 7000-3000bce. And the pointers for these, apart from other evidence plus references ancient texts, IS in the tree rings,-specific dates being 4375, 3195, 2345 bce.

    Re ‘man and his ‘sun-worshiping’ this is very likely a gross misinterpretation of archaeology. Something did scare him big-time and there is plenty of evidence that he tried –not worship the sun– but understand it, and the earth’s, behavior.

    We tend to project back our own ignorance of the past, and of our own ancestors, on to our ancestors’ efforts, when in reality their efforts to study, given the means available to them, were superior to ours today.

  10. ren says:

    As we climb beyond the tropopause, temperatures start to increase again. We are now in the stratosphere, a region extending from a nominal 15 km (9 mile) up to the stratopause at 50 km (31 mile).

    Oxygen molecules, O2, iIn the upper stratosphere absorb short wavelength ultraviolet radiation (<200 nm) and dissociate into highly reactive oxygen atoms*. The atoms diffuse through the stratosphere and at heights of mostly 30-50 km many eventually combine** with more oxygen molecules to produce the reactive oxygen allotrope, ozone.

    Ozone, O3 ,is a strong absorber of longer wavelength (200-340 nm) UV radiation and the absorbed energy heats the atmosphere. The ozone layer is responsible for the stratosphere's increasing temperature with height***. Without ozone, mixing between the troposphere and stratosphere would be much faster and the structure of our atmosphere quite different.

    The ozone layer prevents harmful UV from reaching the earth’s surface and is partly responsible for the deep blue-violet beauty of the twilight sky.
    When falling solar activity decreases ozone.

  11. ren says:

    (a) Total solar irradiance (VSK [Schmidt et al., 2011]). (b) Global stratospheric sulfate aerosol loadings [Gao et al., 2008]. (c) Ice cap expansion dates based on a composite of 94 Arctic Canada calibrated 14C PDFs. (d) 30-year running mean varve thickness in Hvítárvatn sediment core HVT03-2 [Larsen et al., 2011]. (e) Arctic Ocean sea ice recorded in a sediment core on the north Iceland shelf [Massé et al., 2008]; heavy sea ice years correlate with anomalously cold summers across Iceland. (f) Temperature anomalies over southern Greenland (wrt 1881–1980 AD mean) from the borehole temperature inversion at DYE-3 [Dahl-Jensen et al., 1998].

  12. ren says:

    Above you see two strong increases in sulfur at low solar activity.

  13. ren says:

    Is an increase in seismic activity under the Iceland can affect the temperature in the Norwegian Sea?

  14. ren says:

    Currently, despite the negative temperature anomalies in the stratosphere in the north, we still have a high pressure anomaly.

  15. gymnosperm says:

    The normal solar wind is electrically neutral. Do we really know that Carrington events are different?

  16. gymnosperm says:

    A recent SST anomaly along the Jan Mayen Ridge:

    A recent study by Willis:


    Something DOES seem to be going on up there…

  17. oldbrew says:

    gymnosperm says:
    April 29, 2016 at 3:41 pm (Edit)
    The normal solar wind is electrically neutral. Do we really know that Carrington events are different?

    NASA: ‘high-energy particles – including electrons, protons and heavier ions – are accelerated by solar flares’

  18. ren says:

    Above the current sheet, the higher speed solar wind typically has a dominant magnetic polarity in one direction and below the current sheet, the polarity is in the opposite direction. As the Earth moves through this evolving ballerina skirt, it is sometimes within the heliospheric current sheet, sometimes above it and sometime below it. When the magnetic field of the solar wind switches polarity, it is a strong indication that Earth has crossed the current sheet. The location of the Earth with respect to the current sheet is important because space weather impacts are highly dependent on the solar wind speed, the solar wind density, and the direction of the magnetic field embedded in the solar wind.

    Each of the elements mentioned above play a role in space weather. High speed winds bring geomagnetic storms while slow speed winds bring calm space weather. Corotating interaction regions and to a lesser extent, current sheet crossings, can also cause geomagnetic disturbances. Thus specifying and forecasting the solar wind is critical to developing forecasts of space weather and its impacts at Earth.

  19. ren says:

    How important is a magnetosphere to the development and survivability of life? The solar wind, where it meets the local interstellar medium (LISM), forms boundaries that protect the planets from the galactic environment. The interstellar interaction depends on the raw pressure of the solar wind and the properties of the local interstellar medium (density, pressure, magnetic field, and bulk flow). These properties, particularly those of the LISM, change over the course of time, and change dramatically on long time scales (1,000 years and longer) as the solar system encounters interstellar clouds.

  20. ren says:

    Our star’s output varies on many time scales: from explosive reconnection and convective turnover, to the 27-day solar rotation, to the 22-year solar magnetic cycle, and to even longer, irregular fluctuations, such as the 17th-century Maunder minimum. The variability is linked to the emergence of magnetic field from below the photosphere, its transport and destruction on the solar surface, and the eruption into the heliosphere of energy stored in the solar atmosphere as flares, shocks, and coronal mass ejections. Longer-term changes that can affect Earth’s climate include solar total and spectral irradiance. Like terrestrial weather, it is not yet clear how long in advance solar activity is predictable. Continuous observations of the solar vector magnetic field and high-resolution observations of the atmosphere will be as critical for resolving this question as helioseismology will be for revealing the subsurface conditions.

  21. ren says:

    Tesla very much liked to read and not just scientific books but also poetry and novels.
    Sometimes he would wrote something himself, this is his only saved poem, for other poetry texts its believed that burned in his lab fire.
    “Fragments of Olympian Gossip” is a poem that Nikola Tesla composed in the late 1920s for his friend, George Sylvester Viereck, an illustrious German poet and mystic. It made fun of the scientific establishment of the day.

    Fragments of Olympian Gossip

    While listening on my cosmic phone
    I caught words from the Olympus blown.
    A newcomer was shown around;
    That much I could guess, aided by sound.
    “There’s Archimedes with his lever
    Still busy on problems as ever.
    Says: matter and force are transmutable
    And wrong the laws you thought immutable.”
    “Below, on Earth, they work at full blast
    And news are coming in thick and fast.
    The latest tells of a cosmic gun.
    To be pelted is very poor fun.
    We are wary with so much at stake,
    Those beggars are a pest—no mistake.”
    “Too bad, Sir Isaac, they dimmed your renown
    And turned your great science upside down.
    Now a long haired crank, Einstein by name,
    Puts on your high teaching all the blame.
    Says: matter and force are transmutable
    And wrong the laws you thought immutable.”
    “I am much too ignorant, my son,
    For grasping schemes so finely spun.
    My followers are of stronger mind
    And I am content to stay behind,
    Perhaps I failed, but I did my best,
    These masters of mine may do the rest.
    Come, Kelvin, I have finished my cup.
    When is your friend Tesla coming up.”
    “Oh, quoth Kelvin, he is always late,
    It would be useless to remonstrate.”
    Then silence—shuffle of soft slippered feet—
    I knock and—the bedlam of the street.

  22. E.M.Smith says:


    Is there evidence those were solar flare events? There is a lot of evidence for cyclic cold events (Bond Events) causing civilization collapse…

    @All, per sun worship

    While there was some of it, alot was just being grateful it was there. Some places, like Stonehenge, are less religion than scientific. It is largely a lunar solar obsevatory. There are indication they had worked out some of the cycles that drive weather and tides, like the longer lunar cycles. For a seafaring people, that’s a big deal. The 19 year cycle is well attested in period artifacts.

    Egyptians had a herd of gods, only one of which was Ra, but also had a pretty good calendar and astronomy. IMHO, for them, sun worship was also more of just a recognition of how important the sun is for crops and life.

    It isn’t praising a God, in our sense, to say the sun is realy realy important, and we are thankful it is there. More rational, IMHO, than praying to an invisible man in the sky who keeps count of how many hairs are on your head, and never answers in person…

  23. ren says:

    The current parameters of the solar wind. A clear decrease in speed.

  24. ren says:

    “The electric power grid, and consequently the power to your home and business, can be disrupted by space weather. One of the great discoveries of the 19th century was the realization that a time-varying magnetic field is able to produce an electrical current in a conducting wire. The basic idea is that the time rate of change of the magnetic flux (i.e. lines of magnetic force) passing through a current loop is proportional to the current that is generated around the loop. A slightly earlier but equally important discovery was that a current-carrying wire produces a magnetic field. The application of these principles is widely prevalent in modern society in electrical power generators, electrical power transformers, and electrical motors, for example.”

  25. Oldmank says:

    @ EMSmith: the evidence points to disastrous/cataclysmic seismic events, but the real triggering cause is not known. Early third millennium astronomical observatories show clear evidence of attempts to study what was happening. Too technical and precise for simple worship.

    Besides, the early gods (4th-3rd k) were ugly, hideous and terrible, but were a human invention meant to frighten enemies (and neighbors) in wars, at the front-line.

  26. ren says:

    The decrease in the speed of the solar wind generates a decline in geomagnetic activity.

  27. ren says:

    The sun is not God. It is in reality.

  28. oldbrew says:

    When it’s not solar flares, it’s weasels.

    ‘The Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator at Cern is offline after a short circuit – caused by a weasel.’

  29. jim says:

    Interesting commentary, my comment, is, weaker solar wind? Are we sure it is an input or an output? If our magnetic field is strong, would it not modify the wind too be weaker? And the corally effect is weak magnet more wind? Since the wind is ionic, shift the volumes, toward the magnetic poles? Changing the climate as the pole moves? Changing the weather patterns as the pole moves? I wonder if they, meaning the historians could track the pole movements during the last several ice ages? ‘D rather trust a historian rather then a climate scientist, historians try to be accurate.

  30. oldbrew says:

    Spectacular NASA Videos Reveal a Sun Storm in Jaw-Dropping 4K HD