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Solar flare impacts microchips, August 16, 1989

-August 16, 2014

A significant geomagnetic storm caused by a very large X20 solar flare affected microchips and lead to the halt of Toronto’s stock market trading on August 16, 1989.

The solar flare was stronger than the X15 flare recorded in March of the same year. That flare caused extremely intense auroras and a geomagnetic storm that lead to the collapse of Hydro-Québec's electricity transmission system.

Despite its lesser X15 potency, having a notable flare just five months before the August 1989 event provided some insight as to what was occurring. At the time of the March flare, some immediate concerns arose about a possible Cold War attack.

Since the two flares, power companies in North America, the UK, Northern Europe, and elsewhere have taken more care to evaluate the risks of geomagnetically induced currents and to develop mitigation strategies.

Both flares were part of the Solar Cycle 22, the 22nd solar cycle since 1755 when recording of solar sunspot activity began.

The sun follows the typical active star cycle where over the course of approximately 11 years energy goes from higher to lower levels, with the higher bringing solar flares to Earth.

Higher points and their associated solar flares are expected between 2012 and 2014. Some 2012 doomsday believers have made note of this. However, NASA has advised that solar flares experienced during this time period will not be strong enough to physically destroy the Earth.

Since 1995, geomagnetic storms and solar flares have been monitored from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), a joint-NASA-European Space Agency satellite.

According to SOHO data, most powerful flare measured with modern methods erupted early on Tuesday, October 28, 2003. (See image taken by satellite, credit: NASA/SOHO)


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For more moments in tech history, see this blog. EDN strives to be historically accurate with these postings. Should you see an error, please notify us.

Editor's note: This article was originally posted on August 16, 2012, and edited on August 16, 2014.

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