At 11:18 am on September 1st 1859 the English astronomer Richard Carrington in his observatory was recording sunspots on an image of the sun projected through his telescope onto a screen.
Carrington in his report noted “Two patches of intensely bright white light broke out.”
“My first impression was that by some chance a ray of light had penetrated a hole in the screen attached to the object-glass, by which the general image is thrown into shade, for the brilliancy was fully equal to that of direct sunlight.”
“Singular Appearance seen in the Sun”http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu//full/1859MNRAS..20…13C/0000013.000.html
From NASA: “Just before dawn the next day, skies all over planet Earth erupted in red, green, and purple auroras so brilliant that newspapers could be read as easily as in daylight. Indeed, stunning auroras pulsated even at near tropical latitudes over Cuba, the Bahamas, Jamaica, El Salvador, and Hawaii.”
A powerful geomagnetic solar storm had occurred. This geomagnetic storm was triggered by a coronal Mass ejection from the sun.
Telegraph operators reported sparks from their equipment with some bad enough to start fires.
For most people of 1859 this event was nothing more than an unusual and spectacular light show in Sky, however if this type of event occurred today it could well be a catastrophic disaster.
Most people have no idea that the earth barely missed a similar event on July 22nd 2012, the huge outburst propelled a magnetic cloud through the solar wind at 2000 Kilometers a second. The magnetic eruption burst through the space earth had occupied just a little over a week before. The sun rotates on its axis every 27 earth days and we were lucky that the blast was directed away from the earth.
If the earth had received a direct hit electrical transformers would have burst into flames, power grids would have gone down, GPS Satellites would have failed airlines would be grounded and much of our modern day technology would fail.
So the message is Keep your Amateur Radio gear at the ready !