Hurricane Irma: Solar flares could wreak HAVOC on satellites as storm barrels towards US

Thursday, September 7, 2017
By Paul Martin

THE sun has released two huge solar flares, prompting fears they could affect global communications at a time when satellites are desperately needed.

Thu, Sep 7, 2017

As Hurricane Irma barrels towards the US, devastating the Caribbean islands along the way, the likes of Nasa and weather forecasters will be relying on satellites to keep up to date with the powerful storm.

However, the two solar flares – the strongest in 12 years – could put satellite communication in jeopardy.

Solar storms blast radiation in all directions from the sun, some of which hit the outer atmosphere of Earth, causing it to heat up and expand.

This means satellite signals would struggle to penetrate the swollen atmosphere, leading to a lack of internet service, GPS navigation, satellite TV such as Sky and mobile phone signal.

Additionally, increased currents in the Earth’s magnetic field – or magnetosphere – could theoretically lead to a surge in power lines, which can blow out electrical transformers and power stations.

Nasa said in a statement: “Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.”

However, Terry Onsager, a physicist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center, moved to calm fears about the satellites – specifically theirs which have been used to help track Hurricane Irma.

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