Articles | Volume 19, issue 3
31 Mar 2001
 | 31 Mar 2001

Solar and auroral evidence for an intense recurrent geomagnetic storm during December in AD 1128

D. M. Willis and F. R. Stephenson

Abstract. The earliest known drawing of sunspots appears in The Chronicle of John of Worcester, which was compiled in the first half of the twelfth century. In this medieval chronicle, the Latin text describing the sunspots is accompanied by a colourful drawing, albeit idealised, which shows the apparent positions and sizes of two sunspots on the solar disk. The date of this observation of sunspots from Worcester, England is firmly established as AD 1128 December 8. Assuming that the drawing was prepared fairly carefully, the angular diameters of the two sunspots are at least about 3 arcmin and 2 arcmin in the northern and southern hemispheres, respectively. Similarly, the heliographic latitudes of both sunspots are within the approximate range of 25°–35°. About five days after this observation of sunspots on the solar disk, on the night of AD 1128 December 13, a red auroral display was observed from Songdo, Korea (the modern city of Kaesong). This auroral observation was recorded in the Koryo-sa, the official Korean chronicle of the period. In addition, five Chinese and five Korean descriptions of auroral displays were recorded in various East-Asian histories between the middle of AD 1127 and the middle of AD 1129. The ten oriental auroral records in this particular interval correspond to six distinct auroral events, which provide evidence for recurrent, though possibly intermittent, auroral activity on a timescale almost exactly equal to the synodic-solar-rotation period (approximately 27 days). The six distinct auroral events were apparently associated with two series of recurrent geomagnetic storms, both of which were sufficiently intense to produce mid-latitude auroral displays in East Asia. These ancient solar and auroral observations are interpreted in terms of present-day understanding of solar-terrestrial physics. Con-temporary ground-based and satellite measurements during the last few decades have indicated that recurrent geomagnetic storms are usually a feature of the declining phase of the solar cycle. In addition, the strength of such recurrent geomagnetic storms has been classified as moderate rather than intense. The recurrent geomagnetic storms occurring during the interval AD 1127–1129 must have been sufficiently intense to produce mid-latitude auroral displays over China and Korea, some of which appeared or extended south of the observing site. This last statement remains true even after proper allowance is made for the fact that during the twelfth century, the north geomagnetic pole was probably situated at the usual high geographic latitude, but in the same geographic longitude range as East Asia. Therefore, it may be inferred that the two series of intense recurrent geomagnetic storms occurred near a medieval maximum in the "eleven-year" solar cycle. Moreover, the overall level of solar activity appears to have been especially high at the end of the second decade of the twelfth century.

b>Key words. Magnetospheric physics (auroral phenomena; storms and substorms) – Solar physics, astrophysics and astronomy (photosphere and chromosphere)