Why tonight’s massive solar storm could disrupt communications and GPS systems


Washington
CNN

Bandit: An unusual amount of solar activity this week could disrupt some critical technologies society relies on.

On Thursday, the US government released its first scathing statement Geomagnetic storm monitoring In nearly 20 years, it advises the public of “at least five Earth-driven coronal mass ejections” and sunspots covering an area 16 times the width of Earth. A severe geomagnetic storm, or G4, is the US government’s second-highest rating classification system.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said radiation from the activity began hitting Earth’s magnetic field Friday and will last through the weekend.

NOAA’s Severe Space Weather Observatory says the storm could have several consequences for life on Earth. Here’s what that means for tech users.

NOAA talks about solar activity involving the release of energy from the sun that travels through space and eventually reaches Earth.

When that radiation hits the magnetosphere surrounding the planet, it causes fluctuations. IonosphereA layer of the upper atmosphere.

Those changes can directly affect satellites and other spacecraft in orbit, changing their orientation or A potential knockout their electronics.

Also, changes in the ionosphere can block or distort radio transmissions trying to pass through the atmosphere to reach satellites. They can also prevent radio transmissions from the ionosphere from being successfully intercepted – something some radio operators do to increase the range of their signals.

Because GPS satellites depend on signals that penetrate the ionosphere, scientists expect geomagnetic disturbances to affect aircraft, ocean-going ships and critical technology used in the agriculture and oil and gas industries. And it can affect Shortwave radio transmissions Used by ships and aircraft, emergency management agencies, the military and ham radio operators, they all rely on High frequency Radio waves can be scattered by storms, NOAA says.

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Costfoto/NurPhoto/AP

The sun rises in Korla, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China on May 10, 2024.

“Geomagnetic storms can affect infrastructure in near-Earth orbit and on the Earth’s surface, disrupting communications, electric power grid, navigation, radio and satellite operations,” NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center said. said in a release. “SWPC has notified the operators of these systems so that they can take precautionary measures.”

Consumer wireless networks rely on different radio frequencies than the high-frequency band, so it’s unlikely that the storm will directly affect cellular service. GPS features on your phone also typically use a combination of pure GPS and cellular tower-based location tracking, so phone users can maintain a rough location fix even if GPS signals are disrupted.

As long as the underlying electrical infrastructure that supports wireless networks is unaffected, even an extreme space weather event would have “minimal direct impact to public safety radio and commercial cellular services … and no first-order impact to consumer electronics,” according to the researchers. In short Findings from a 2010 study of extreme space weather conducted by NOAA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Cyber ​​Security and Infrastructure Security Agency also outlined a similar report. 2021 presentation In space weather, line-of-sight radio transmissions are generally not affected by space weather except in special circumstances. The presentation mentions some of the dangers for land-based copper cables and telephone lines.

In a slightly different scenario in February, NOAA noted two Major sunburn. But despite “widely reported cellular network outages” at the same time, the company said it was “highly unlikely” that flares played a role in those blackouts.

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On Friday, NOAA officials reiterated that the impact on cellphones this weekend should be minimal, unless there are widespread disruptions to the power grid.

“We don’t see any evidence that a space weather storm could have an impact right now,” Brent Gordon, head of SWPC’s Space Weather Services Branch, told reporters on a conference call. “If they don’t get empowered, yes, of course, the secondary effects from that are going to be huge.”

According to NOAA, severe space weather can affect power grids warning This week is expected to see “potential widespread voltage control issues” and “some protection systems may incorrectly disconnect critical assets from the power grid.”

In 1989, a space weather event a Massive power outage in Quebec, Canada Geomagnetic fluctuations for over nine hours damaged transformers and other critical equipment.

In October, a stronger-than-forecast geomagnetic storm knocked out power in Sweden and damaged transformers in South Africa this weekend, SWPC said.

The largest known geomagnetic storm in history, known as the Carrington Event of 1859, caused sparks and sparks in telegraph stations.

Blackouts of the power grid can have cascading effects for communications and other technologies, including cell phones. Cellular towers, websites and data centers that feed their information may lose power.

However, many wireless carriers already maintain backup power generators and mobile cellular towers that can be used during a natural disaster or other major incident. Redundancy and resilience are watchwords for all critical infrastructure providers, so even if the power grid fails, consumers may have to worry more about how to charge their phones than whether they can stay online.

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As if to underline that point, the US Govt Advice to the public How to prepare for a space weather event is similar to the steps you would take in response to an extended power outage.

CNN’s Ashley Strickland contributed For this report.

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