Solar Flares Cause Communications Problems

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Mother Nature can sure cause a lot of static when she wants to. In fact, static was the only thing heard on a few air-carrier-based communication systems on Monday, as a solar storm was blamed for interfering with high-frequency communications. While the storm could last up to two weeks, a powerful flare-up that hit earth yesterday morning was labeled the "third most powerful solar X-ray flare on record, a remarkable X17.2 category explosion," according to The European Space Agency. Although the first flare-up did not cause widespread problems, the second event did disrupt some airline communications bands and cellphones and even caused some difficulties for the firefighting in California. The FAA's William Shumann said the agency's ground-based and satellite systems have been unaffected to date. The storm, called a "coronal mass ejection," sent a mass of intensely radioactive solar gas toward Earth at 2,000,000 mph. And while many aircraft could be affected by the event, some are helping study it. Scientists have loaded specially designed Low Linear-Energy-Transfer Radiation Spectrometers (LoLRSs) on a fleet of Boeing 747s operated by Evergreen International Airlines. As the jumbos fly across the United States and Africa and the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans, they will help survey aviation-altitude radiation and relate those phenomena to what's happening in the "space weather" outside the atmosphere.