An intricate digital artwork depicting a chaotic scene during a recent solar storm, with colorful auroras above and various technological devices like satellites, smartphones, and power grids malfunct

More Than Auroras: The Technology Impacted by the Recent Solar Storm – Gizmodo

Introduction to Solar Storms and Their Broader Impact

Solar storms, also known as geomagnetic storms, occur when the Sun releases a massive burst of solar wind and magnetic fields into space. This ejection of charged particles interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field, often resulting in the illuminated sky displays known as auroras. However, the effects of these storms extend far beyond these beautiful natural phenomena. Recent solar activities have shown a significant impact on various technologies, highlighting the pervasive influence of solar emissions in our tech-driven world.

Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS)

One of the primary technologies affected by solar storms is the Global Navigation Satellite System, which includes GPS (Global Positioning System). Solar storms produce changes in Earth’s ionosphere, a layer of the atmosphere filled with charged particles. These changes can distort the GPS signals as they pass through the ionosphere, leading to inaccuracies in position, navigation, and timing data. For sectors that rely heavily on precise timing, such as telecommunications and finance, even minor disruptions can have significant repercussions.

Impact on Aviation

Aviation relies extensively on accurate GNSS data for navigation and landing, especially in polar regions where magnetic interference is more pronounced. During solar storms, flights may have to be rerouted to avoid areas where navigation accuracy becomes questionable, leading to delays and increased operational costs.

Communication Systems

High-frequency (HF) radio communications, used by aircraft and maritime operations, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of solar storms. Increased ionospheric density can absorb or reflect radio waves, causing communication blackouts. Such blackouts can last for hours, posing serious challenges to safety and coordination in remote transportation sectors.

Satellite Communications

Satellites themselves can be directly impacted by charged particles from solar storms. The accumulation of these particles can lead to electrostatic discharge, damaging the satellite’s electronics and shortening their operational lifespan. Additionally, increased drag from expanding atmospheric particles during solar storms can alter satellite orbits, necessitating costly position corrections.

Power Grids

The electrical power grid can also succumb to the influences of solar storms. Geomagnetically induced currents (GICs) can flow through power lines, transformers, and grounding points, potentially overheating components and triggering protective shutdowns. In extreme cases, this can lead to wide-reaching power outages and damage that takes a long time and significant capital to repair.

Case Study: The Quebec Blackout of 1989

A historical instance of such an event occurred in March 1989, when a powerful solar storm caused a nine-hour blackout across the entire province of Quebec, Canada. This incident affected six million people and served as a wake-up call to the potential severity of solar storm impacts on power infrastructure.

Technological Safeguards and Future Outlook

The increasing awareness of the technological vulnerabilities associated with solar storms has led to the development of mitigation strategies. Power companies now have protocols to redistribute loads during solar events, and satellites can be temporarily shut down or shielded. Meanwhile, engineers are upgrading GNSS technology to enhance resilience against solar interferences.

The Role of Space Weather Forecasting

Advancements in space weather forecasting have become a critical component in managing the impact of solar storms. Agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provide vital monitoring and predictive alerts that allow operators across different sectors to implement preemptive strategies, minimizing damage and service disruptions.


While auroras are the most visually stunning manifestation of solar storms, their impact on today’s technology-driven infrastructure is profound and far-reaching. As our reliance on precision and connectivity grows, understanding and preparing for these solar events will be crucial in safeguarding our technological assets against the whims of solar activity.


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