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Cars Rebel in Nevada

Last week, automobiles in part of Nevada seemed to think for themselves. Locksmiths, car dealerships and towing companies were flooded with calls from people who said their keyless entry devices didn't work.

In reviewjournal.com, Juliet V. Casey, J.M. Kalil and Keith Rogers quote Nellis Air Force Base spokesman Mike Estrada as saying, "Maybe it's those little green men up north [in Area 51]. Are there sun spots? I've been trying to figure it out. It happened to me right after lunch." Estrada had to use his key to unlock his car door, setting off his alarm.

ABC Locksmiths received 30 calls from drivers whose the key systems failed. ABC dispatcher Milo Ferguson says, "My car is one of them. It's some kind of electrical disturbance. Either that or a nuclear bomb went off a few miles from here."

Quality Towing received 25 calls, and the Country Ford dealership got more than 100 calls. Katie Baumann, service operator for the dealership, contacted Ford headquarters and was told that "a lot of static electricity in the air could be messing up the radio waves."

"Solar flares can produce and eject large numbers of charge particles, and usually the Earth's magnetic field deflects them before they enter the atmosphere," says physicist Malcolm Nicol. "But if they are very large, they have been known to destroy the electronics systems in satellites and cause other problems down here." But if it was a solar flare, why would it affect cars in only one small part of Nevada?

The FCC says the low-power radio frequency transmitters used by keyless entry devices is similar to those in garage door openers, remote-controlled toys, cordless telephones, alarm systems and the wireless computer networks. These are unlicensed frequencies, and can fail when they?re near an antenna emitting high radio frequency energy. Some Ford and GM keyless entry systems use the same radio spectrum bands that are used in military operations. The U.S. Commerce Department's website says, "These bands are heavily used worldwide for critical military air-traffic control and tactical training communications."

The FCC's Paul Oei heard about an incident several years ago in which garage door openers stopped working in an area when Air Force One was nearby. He says, "Who knows what the military could be using at any given time?"

John Pike, of globalsecurity.org, says jamming, which interferes with an enemy's radar, could be responsible. He says, "The military is certainly capable of fibbing about these things. But, for the military to have done it, they would have to have seriously miscalculated the effects of some test."

Estrada says, "We've got a jammer in the inventory, but I don't think we've got any out here, let alone flying." Chuck Clark, who lives in Rachel, which is closer to Area 51, says, "We get electronic jamming all the time."

Sunspots can do strange things?did they cause a major disaster in the past?

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