In 1582 a massive solar storm hit Earth, appearing in the skies over Europe and Asia like a "great fire" and according to researchers, another such mega-storm could hit Earth again this century, this time with the potential to cause catastrophic damage and knock out power grids globally. Scientists at Cornell University have discovered 16th-century eyewitness reports of the 1582 storm (via Daily Mail). The reports are comparable to those of more modern solar storms -- such as one in 1909 and one in 1989 -- which suggests these mega-storms happen roughly every century.
The 1582 records detail a three-day event that saw a "fiery red show in the sky". While the first appearance of the event is described as "fire rays [that] appeared over the castle [was] dreadful and fearful", subsequent days seemed to be less intense.
Pero Ruiz Soares, an eyewitness of the 1582 solar storm, noted of the event "All that part of the sky appeared burning in fiery flames; it seemed that the sky was burning."
They added, "Nobody remembered having seen something like that… At midnight, great fire rays arose above the castle which were dreadful and fearful. The following day, it happened the same at the same hour but it was not so great and terrifying. Everybody went to the countryside to see this great sign."
The event was also documented in feudal Japan, German, South Korea, and more. In the centuries since, there have been a number of solar storms, including the 1859 "Carrington event" which is considered one of the most extreme space weather events documented.
Generally, solar storms are not uncommon and are usually harmless. However, a large solar storm could prove to be catastrophic to the modern world. During a solar storm, the sun releases hot plasma as solar flares and winds and they can cause electronic interference. A powerful-enough solar storm striking Earth could be enough to wipe out power grids -- and there's some historical evidence of just how disruptive such a storm. The most powerful solar storm of the 20th century struck in 1909 and caused widespread issues with the telegraph system while a more moderate storm in 1989 knocked out Quebec's power grid.
So, what does this mean for life in this century? Scientists believe that there will be another major solar storm sometime in the 21st century and researchers are hoping to use the 1582 reports to help develop better prediction models, something especially important with NASA planning a return to the moon in 2024.
What do you think about the possibility of a mega solar storm sometime this century? Let us know in the comments.
Illustration by Tobias Roetsch/Future Publishing via Getty Images