Solar flares could create communications woes

Solar flares could create communications woes

As if weather on Earth hadn't caused enough problems lately, forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say solar storms could interfere with radio communications over the next week.

A large solar flare spotted Wednesday afternoon disrupted airline communications and air traffic control systems, said Larry Combs, solar forecaster at NOAA's Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colo.

'This event created a complete blackout of high frequency communications on the daylit side of the Earth, which included the entire U.S.,' Combs said. 'The blackouts lasted for a couple of hours.'

The flare, spotted at 1:40 p.m. Eastern Time, was the fourth-largest in the last 15 years and came from an area that has been active in the last two weeks as it passed across the back side of the sun. Forecasters expect it to remain active as it passes across the side facing Earth.

'It is a pretty strong storm area, and we expect it to continue strong to moderate activity for maybe a week,' Combs said.

Although the flare affected mainly high frequency radio communications, low frequency navigational systems might also have seen significant degradation.

'Communications used by emergency services along the Gulf Coast may have experienced problems due to this flare,' he said.

Magnetic interference from flares in the ionosphere could also have an effect on short-wave ham radio performance.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday that despite reported radio interference, the flare had no impact on commercial flights.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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