Imagine a cosmic ballet where the sun, a fiery maestro, orchestrates a dance of solar flares and magnetic fields that reaches all the way to our tiny blue planet. We’re talking about solar cycles and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) – yes, they sound like sci-fi terms, but trust me, they’re very real and closer to home than you might think.
Now, you might be wondering, ‘What does all this space stuff have to do with us down here in Dayboro?’ A lot more than you’d expect! From disrupting our beloved Starlink internet to playing hide and seek with GPS signals, the sun’s mood swings can throw a spanner in our modern, tech-filled lives.
So grab a cuppa, settle in, and let’s embark on a stellar journey to understand these celestial phenomena and how they impact everything from our daily internet browsing to the broader mysteries of our weather. And who knows, by the end of this, we might even figure out why your GPS led you to the wrong side of town last Tuesday!
Impacts on Satellites and Services
Let’s zoom in on how these solar shenanigans affect our satellites.
Picture this: a solar flare, like a colossal fart from the sun, sends a cloud of magnetic energy hurtling through space. When these CMEs hit our planet, they can give our satellites a real jolt. This isn’t just about missing your favourite TV show or a spotty internet connection. It’s serious business, as satellites guide everything from farming equipment to aeroplanes.
We’ve seen this play out before. Remember the Quebec Blackout of 1989? I doubt that any of you do, it was kinda swiped under the table, as in “noting to see here folks”.
That was our sun flexing its magnetic muscles, leaving millions in the dark.
In 2003, the Halloween Storms turned satellites into space zombies, confused and malfunctioning. It’s not just a Halloween tale, folks – it’s a stark reminder of our high-tech vulnerabilities!
The Most Disruptive Solar Storms and Their Consequences
Here are historical incidents illustrating the impact of solar activity on technology and infrastructure, which can help contextualize the potential effects on satellites like Starlink:
- The Carrington Event (1859): This was the most powerful solar storm ever recorded. It disrupted the telegraph system, the primary means of communication at the time. If a similar event were to occur today, it could cause trillions in damages and take years to recover.
- The 1921 Railroad Storm: This solar storm caused significant disruption to telegraph and early radio communications, affecting long-distance communication and navigation for ships and early aviation. It served as an early warning of the potential threats solar storms pose to electrical infrastructure.
- The 1972 Solar Flare: This event disrupted AT&T’s long-distance telephone system and motivated the development of fibre-optic networks, less susceptible to space weather disruptions. It also affected maritime and aviation navigation systems.
- The Quebec Blackout (1989): A severe geomagnetic storm caused the Hydro-Québec power grid to collapse, leaving millions without power and highlighting the vulnerability of modern power grids to solar storms.
- The Bastille Day Event (2000): This solar storm temporarily disrupted satellite operations, including the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). It also affected GPS accuracy and reliability, emphasizing the need for backup navigation technologies.
- The Halloween Storms (2003): These storms caused satellite malfunctions, disruptions to power grids and communication systems, and necessitated the rerouting of flights due to increased radiation exposure concerns.
- The 2006 Solar Flare: This event disrupted high-frequency radio communications and satellite operations, including a temporary loss of contact with the Galaxy 15 satellite. It also highlighted the vulnerability of GPS and other critical systems to space weather.
- February 2020: The Starlink operators did not only spill coffee but also about 20 Starlink satellites.
Current Status of Solar Cycle 25
Now, let’s bring it back to the present – Solar Cycle 25. We’re currently ascending the hilly track of this solar rollercoaster, expected to reach the peak between late 2024 and early 2026. Well, that was according to NOAA (SWPC). They ignored, initially, all calls from folks who are either experts in this field or just keyboard monkeys like myself saying that NOAA was wrong. The numbers did not add up, and finally, in their ultimate wisdom, they decided to change their prediction.
The forecast suggests a solar hoedown that’s a bit more lively than the last cycle, but still not record-breaking. That said we should not forget a similar scenario that happened with Solar Cycle 23. The sun went to “bed” after eating a can of beans, resulting in some spectacular farts. So much so that satellite operators were throwing their hands in the air, and satellites went rough. Many Earth-orbiting satellites (like the ones for our internet) went offline, rebooted or decided to go for a bit of sightseeing.
Think it is funny? Well here is a paper on it from 2020, Flying Through Uncertainty.
We might experience more of these solar outbursts, potentially leading to more satellite hiccups and GPS misadventures, not only that Earth’s defence system is at its weakest, meaning that we can see more of a direct impact here on Earth, as shown in the section above.
Internet and more so the speed of it is always a topic on our Dayboro and Surrounds Community Fakebook page. Fortunately, one thing is consistent. Dayboro where development is faster than our internet. ;-).
As we wrap up our cosmic expedition, let’s hone in on Starlink, a name that’s becoming as familiar in Dayboro as our morning cup of coffee. Many of us rely on Starlink for internet and TV, enjoying a clear connection to the world beyond our scenic town. But as we’ve learned, this connection is delicately tethered to the whims of our solar neighbour, remember February 2020.
During heightened solar activity, as predicted in the coming years, Starlink services might experience intermittent disruptions. It’s like the sun throwing a pebble into our digital pond, causing ripples that reach our homes and devices. So, next time your stream buffers or your video call freezes, remember it could be those solar flares playing tricks on us.
But fret not, Dayboro! While we might have a few digital hiccups, we also in a prime spot to witness some of the most spectacular natural light shows – auroras, courtesy of those very solar storms we do not have to travel far. It’s a reminder of the awe-inspiring interplay between Earth and the Sun, a dance we’re all a part of.
So, as we continue to navigate this solar cycle, let’s appreciate both the technological marvels that connect us and the celestial wonders above. Starlink and solar storms – it’s all part of life in our vibrant community. Before you wander off and spend gazillion dollars on wires, it needs to be pointed out that wired internet is not immune either. Every wire of 300feet or longer will is subject to a CME in some capacity or other. But I can waffle on that more at a later date.