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Ars Technica has collected historical documents recording the contemporary responses, including the above painting by Frederic Edwin Church, possibly a portrayal of the aurora.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.