Historical accounts from the largest electromagnetic storm ever recorded
It was September 1, 1859, and boy were people confused. The global telegraph system failed, telegraph paper spontaneously lit on fire, and the sky was filled with brilliant colors and patterns. The New York Times described it thusly: “alternating great pillars, rolling cumuli shooting streamers, curdled and wisped and fleecy waves—rapidly changing its hue from red to orange, orange to yellow, and yellow to white, and back in the same order to brilliant red.”
In the months shortly after the incident, newspapers and scientific journals found other possible causes. Scientific American postulated falling debris from active volcanoes, the San Francisco Heraldtheorized about “nebulous matter” from “planetary spaces,” and Harper’s Weekly settled on reflections from distant icebergs.
Ars Technica has collected historical documents recording the contemporary responses, including the above painting by Frederic Edwin Church, possibly a portrayal of the aurora. Click through to check it out.
Alatna River Valley, Gates of the Arctic
Photograph by Michael Christopher Brown, National Geographic
“I paddled across this deep, slow-moving river in my small pack raft,” says adventurer Andrew Skurka. The Alatna meanders south from the Gates of the Arctic National Park.
“Nature knows that people are a tide that swells and in time will ebb, and all their works dissolve … As for us: We must uncenter our minds from ourselves. We must unhumanize our views a little and become confident as the rock and ocean that we are made from.”
Photograph: Daniel Peckham, Point Loma Sea Cliffs, 2010