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Solar flares and their effect on technology

My iphone has been behaving badly the last couple of days. I blame solar flares.

You can stop laughing, solar flares are very real. And while they may not be the actual culprit of MY wireless communication device’s deviant ways – they do have the ability to wreack havoc with satellites and power grids.

Basically it works like this: The sun spits a big giant piece of its atmosphere at us at 5 million miles an hour (which is 5 times faster than solar particles usually travel) and that slams into the earth’s magnetic field. It’s that fluctuation (or “tsunami in space” as the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA calls it) in the magnetic field that can affect our communications technology and power systems.

Before you brush this off as a “never gonna happen,” make note that in 1989, a solar flare knocked out the electrical systems in Quebec, Canada.

There’s an upside to this sci-fi weather forecast too however. The after-effect of the sun’s spitball is that many areas of the world are privy to stunning Northern Lights — Aurora Borealis – displays that would normally be reserved for less inhabited regions of the earth. Much of Great Britain is in awe of the astonishing night sky. (See Images here)

And similar to the tornado or hurricane categories, solar storms geomagnetic intensity is ranked on a scale from 1 to 5, five being the most extreme. The solar storms of late rank in the 3 range, meaning that NASA claims they COULD cause technology glitches such as isolated reboots of computers on board Earth-orbiting satellites and interfere with polar radio communications.

So the good news is that their effect is minimal for you and I, unless of course you’re tracking your GPS in centimeters and not feet, or planning your next vacay on the International Space Station.

At least this year.

Tom Bogdan, the director of NOAA, says the sun is going from a quiet period to a busier cycle for solar flares and an increase in the number of such blasts is expected over the next three to five years.

And if that wasn’t enough to start putting sunscreen on all your technology, “The Daily Telegraph disclosed that NASA has warned countries face widespread power blackouts from the once-in-a-generation ‘space storm’ next year.”

Hmmm. So much for my latest iphone theory. It’s off to the genius bar I go, but I’m taking my sunglasses — just in case.

Here’s some incredibly interesting video of the recent solar flares.

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