Not just Auroras: Here’s the tech hit by this weekend’s solar storm

On Friday, the Earth was hit by the strongest geomagnetic storm in the last 20 years. The intense solar activity sent bursts of radiation toward Earth, causing fluctuations in the upper atmosphere that led to power grid failures and radio wave outages, among other technology and infrastructure.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Space Weather Prediction Center issued an unusual warning on Thursdayinforming the public of five Earth-based coronal mass ejections that would accumulate to form a powerful solar storm.

The radiation spewed out by the Sun began hitting Earth on Friday and lasted until Sunday, resulting in colorful aurora borealis which dominated the skies in many parts of the world. In addition to the natural wonder, the geomagnetic storm also affected broadband and GPS satellites in orbit.

NOAA categorized a G5, or “extreme” solar storm, the first of its kind since October 2003. The Sun is approaching its solar maximum, a period of increased activity during its 11-year cycle characterized by intense solar flares, coronal mass ejections, and massive sunspots . The last CMEs observed on the Sun were associated with sunspot AR3664, which stretches over nearly 124,300 miles (200,000 kilometers). It’s so big that you can see it yourself using eclipse glasses (but it will soon disappear from our view).

The most intense solar storm ever recorded occurred in 1859. The Action Carrington it was also a G5 on the geomagnetic storm scale and resulted in major disruption of compasses and telegraph lines, even setting flames in some telegraph offices over the wires. The solar storm that took place last weekend was at the lower end of the G5 and didn’t cause too much damage, but the Sun’s wrath did affect some of the technology we rely on daily.

When charged particles from the Sun hit Earth’s atmosphere, they can create oscillations in the planet’s magnetic field. On Saturday, there were reports of power grid irregularities, the loss of high-frequency communications (i.e. the 3 MHz to 30 MHz bands commonly used for long-distance communications, including military operations, radar systems and contacting ships at sea) and some disruptions GPS, NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center he said NPR.

High-frequency radio blackouts were also seen across Asia, eastern Europe and eastern Africa shortly after the X-class solar flare peaked in the early hours of Friday. Space.com.

Solar radiation hits the Earth’s ionosphere, a layer in the upper atmosphere, and causes fluctuations that can interfere with radio transmissions from satellites passing through this layer. Fluctuations can also prevent radio transmissions from bouncing off the ionosphere, or they can degrade transmissions as they pass through and interact with the increased number of electrons in Earth’s upper atmosphere.

On Saturday, Elon Musk said the “major geomagnetic solar storm that’s happening right now” is causing strain on SpaceX’s broadband internet satellites. “Starlink satellites are under a lot of pressure, but so far they’re holding up,” Musk he wrote on X

John Deere sent sent a text message to its customers on Saturday warning farmers that the accuracy of some tractor systems could be “extremely compromised”. “The base stations were transmitting corrections that were affected by the geomagnetic storm and caused drastic shifts in the field and even some changes in direction that were drastic,” the company wrote.

Farmers in South Dakota have reported having problems with their equipment and GPS showing their tractors going in circles or auto steering not working, local news station reported.

There can also be a delayed effect on satellites in orbit as the solar plasma heats the atmosphere, increasing atmospheric drag that pulls the satellites out of orbit. In February 2022, a coronal mass ejection resulted in the loss of 38 commercial satellites. NASA.

Scientists have been observing the Sun for centuries, but there’s still so much we don’t know about our host star, including how to better predict space weather. Last weekend, a solar storm gave scientists an opportunity to observe the Sun’s eruptions in detail and learn more about how it affects us here on Earth. With April’s total solar eclipse followed by a geomagnetic storm, the star is having quite the year so far.

More: Do you still have the Eclipse glasses? Use them to look at this huge sunspot