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Solar Flares Now Strike Without Warning

Robert Roy Britt writes in Space.com that the SOHO spacecraft, which warns us about large solar flares, has a stuck antenna which causes blackout periods, when it can't send home data. If a giant solar flare should occur?and there have been many during the last few years?we would have no warning about interrupted satellite communications. Solar storms affect cell phones and TV broadcasts. More importantly, intelligence agencies and the military also rely on satellites.

Solar flares are eruptions from the sun's surface that send giant clouds of electrically charged particles to Earth on the solar winds. Our magnetosphere protects us from this radiation, but it can be dangerous for astronauts in space. During a blackout period, warnings that SOHO usually sends two or three days in advance might arrive with only an hour to spare, or not at all.

New media like XM Satellite Radio and DirectTV rely entirely on satellites to reach their customers, and even regular stations use satellites for part of their programming. Advance warning from SOHO allows them to reduce the risk of equipment damage by shutting down temporarily or shifting to another satellite.

In 1989, a solar storm tripped switches in Canada's Hydro-Qu

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