Mention the words “Quebec Blackout” to an electrical engineer or a solar scientist, and you are likely to be in for a lively conversation. That is because the 1989 event, which lit up the sky across much of North America, was caused by a massive solar storm.
Although solar storms with that kind of power are rare, it as an example of the havoc our volatile sun can wreak on our grid-dependent world.
Let’s look at what we know about the unusual 1989 event. Different sources report different dates on when scientists first observed the mammoth sunspot and resulting enormous solar flare that started the event, but sometime during the first week of March that year, astronomers saw a powerful explosion on the sun.
The severe explosion triggered a cloud of gas that had the energy of thousands of nuclear bombs exploding at the same time, according to a NASA report. As a result of these explosions, an intense geomagnetic storm reached Earth a few days later.
The resulting magnetic disturbance caused short-wave radio interruptions, including interference in radio transmission from Radio Free Europe to Russia. Some listeners thought the Cold War was heating up.