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Solar flares could disrupt power, communications

The fiery orb in the sky is burping, which means that your GPS device could fail sometime soon, according to atmosphere experts. Photos: Solar flares and sunspots

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
2 min read
The sun on Wednesday unleashed one of the largest solar flares on record, and further activity could disrupt communications links and electrical power grids.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, or NOAA, said the powerful flare that emerged from region 808 on the sun Wednesday afternoon rated the fourth-largest in the last 15 years. Intense radio emissions were associated with the flare.

solar flares

It rated an R-4, or severe, on NOAA's space weather scale for radio blackouts.

"This event created a complete blackout of high-frequency communications on the day-lit side of Earth, which included the entire U.S. and basically anywhere the sun was shining at this time," Larry Combs, solar forecaster at the NOAA Space Environment Center, said in a prepared statement. "Communications used by emergency services along the Gulf Coast may have experienced problems due to this flare. Low-frequency navigation systems may also have experienced a period of significant degradation," he added.

The agency further added that more flares could be on the way. Several solar eruptions have occurred in the past two weeks, but they only caused minor damage. Future flares could disrupt communication for spacecraft operations and electrical power grids.

Space weather affects you more than you might think. Global Positioning System satellites and DirectTV reception can be impacted by activity from the sun. A magnetic cloud can add an electrical current to power grids, thereby causing a blackout, SRI International Center for GeoSpace Studies program director John Kelly said in a recent interview.

SRI recently unveiled portable radar stations for studying space weather.