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Solar Flare Shockwave May Disrupt Earth’s Satellite Communications

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A solar flare is seen erupting from the sun. (Photograph by: NOAA/National Weather Service's Space Weather Prediction Center, Getty Images)

A solar flare is seen erupting from the sun. (Photograph by: NOAA/National Weather Service’s Space Weather Prediction Center, Getty Images)

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SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— NASA has reported that a shockwave from a massive solar flare of radiation will hit Earth Friday, June 13th, possibly knocking out communications and causing disruptions to satellites. The length and severity of the impact is not known, but we talked to an expert from Stanford who said it’s really only scary if you’re a spacecraft out in space.

“Here on Earth I think we’re all pretty safe,” said Dr. Todd Hoeksema, Solar Physicist and Director of Stanford’s Wilcox Solar Observatory. For the spacecraft, however, the electronic particles could come in and kill the satellites, he said. “If the wrong thing happens at the wrong time, they can also damage their power systems.”

SPACE WEATHER FORECASTS: Track the solar flare

For astronauts, the solar flare can be pretty dangerous. Hoeksema said they might want to take shelter inside your spacecraft. “You wouldn’t want to be out doing a spacewalk during one of these events,” he advised. The reason for that being that the radiation involved hits the Earth and becomes trapped and can hit objects like the satellites.

Fortunately astronauts are for the most part safe at the space station, but if they hit high latitudes, they can be exposed to some of the same radiation affects of the solar flare.

If you’re wondering how often this occurs, Hoeksema explained that there’s an 11-year-cycle, but within that time there’s about two or three years where the sun is really active. “We’re right at the maximum right now,” he said. “These big storms like this one [happen] about once or twice a year. It just depends upon the weather.”

Solar Flare Shockwave May Disrupt Earth’s Satellite Communications

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So far there have been no reports of negative affects from this particular flare up, but scientists are keeping an eye on disturbances to the power grid. “They cause currents to flow in long lines, particularly up north.” Power companies can and have taken precautions he said.

Sometimes during solar flares the CBS network in New York will notify its affiliates (KCBS included) that the solar activity may affect their broadcast’s disruption. Hoeksema explained that the ionosphere is between the radio station and the satellites orbiting above the atmosphere. The flares create ionization, meaning more energy is deposited, which can lead to communications disruptions.

Airline communications also experience similar ionization, but Dr. Hoeksema didn’t seem to be alarmed. Landlines shouldn’t be too disrupted, but he said anything that relies on satellite technology is more likely to be affected. “Particularly, if a satellite was damaged, it could be interrupted for a while. Usually it would recover within a couple of hours.”

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