Chase the Midnight Sun: Iceland and Canada tours available now!

If the Biggest Solar Storm in History Happened Today

The 1859 Carrington Event Recreated in Photos

|March 4, 2020
Jessie is your basic nature lover with a particular interest in all things water. From the high peaks of the Himalaya's to the lush depths of the Amazon, she's hiked some of the the world's greatest trails.

Over 150 years ago, the biggest solar storm on record lit up night skies around the world. The Northern Lights dazzled city skies as far south as Honolulu, Hawaii. Want to see what the storm would look like today? Check out the 1859 Carrington Event recreated in photos!

A Catastrophe We're Not Ready For: Solar Storms

What was the Carrington Event of 1859?

On September 1, 1859, a mega solar flare erupted and caused a huge geomagnetic storm on Earth.

The flare eruption was so intense that British astronomer Richard Carrington could spot two blinding bursts of its light through the lens of his telescope.

The amateur scientist’s records of the storm gave it the name it has today: the Carrington Event of 1859. It remains the world’s largest solar storm on record.

big solar flare view on the sun

What happened when the solar storm hit Earth?

outer space view of earth and northern lights

The 1859 Carrington Event caused the Northern Lights to light up night skies around the globe.

Typically only seen near polar regions, the bright auroras were viewed all the way from the northern hemisphere to southern areas such as Cuba, Hawaii, and Columbia.

The dazzling lights of the aurora were so bright that gold miners in the U.S. confused their glow with morning light. So confused, in fact, that they woke up and started to get ready for work in the middle of the night!

Across North America and Europe, the strength of the solar storm caused a complete halt to telegraph systems. In today’s Digital Age, it would be as if mobile data and WiFi networks crashed and created a total communication breakdown.

Quick Facts about the Northern Lights

a scheme explaining northern lights on earth

We know the Northern Lights are brilliant, colorful, and filled with magic, but how exactly are they formed? Here are a few bright facts about the aurora borealis:

  • The Northern Lights are created by the sun. The aurora is formed when solar wind slams into Earth’s magnetic field. The collision causes small bursts of light (auroras) to appear in the sky.
  • Their bright colors are made from gas. The majestic colors are created when particles from space collide with gases (oxygen and nitrogen) in our atmosphere.
  • The Northern Lights appear in two different forms. They are either discrete or diffuse. Diffuse lights glow and are sometimes invisible while discrete forms are sharp and bright.
  • The lights are guided by the Earth’s magnetic energy. The Earth’s north and south poles act as magnets to the light particles.
  • The top places to see the Northern Lights are near the Arctic Circle. You can find the best lights in countries such as Iceland, Norway, Canada, and Sweden.

Curious to see what the aurora looks like in Iceland? Check out this video:

Northern Lights Watching Tour with

What if the Carrington Event happened today?

Earth has yet to experience a massive solar event since the Solar Storm of 1859. If something similar were to happen today, all the technological systems we depend on would be in complete disorder.

Despite the chaos it would bring, we couldn’t resist imagining what our favorite cities would look like under the brilliant colors of the Northern Lights. Here are a few photos to help feed your imagination:

northern lights above sydney australia
northern lights above hong kong
aurora borealis above berlin city in germany
bright and strong aurora above paris in france

See the Northern Lights in Iceland

Want to see the lights for yourself? Watch nature’s top show with one of our expert-guided Northern Lights tours in Iceland.

Escape the city lights and join a small-group tour with local guides skilled at spotting the best viewpoints. Tours are only available during the winter months (September to April).

couple watching northern lights in iceland in winter

Best-Selling Magical Auroras Tour

Hop on a minibus and go stargazing in south-west Iceland on our best-selling Magical Aurora Northern Lights Tour

Join a small group and expert aurora guide as you spend an evening gazing up at the Northern Lights. Easy pick-up in Reykjavik and free photos included.

Super Jeep Northern Lights Hunt

two big super jeeps at night in iceland

Drive off the beaten track on an unforgettable Super Jeep Northern Lights Hunt! Search for the Earth’s most beautiful miracle as you head to Iceland’s top spots to view the mystical shapes and colors of the aurora.

Comfortable super jeep transport, small-group experiences, and convenient pick-up from Reykjavik included.

Want to see the Northern Lights in Iceland? You don’t need to wait for the biggest solar storm ever. Get up close to the aurora with one of our best-selling Northern Lights tours today!

Recommended tours

Related blog posts