If you have watched any television news program or visited any of the news sites online you have probably seen the gloom and doom warnings about the latest CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) that was hurtling a plasma made up of particles toward earth.
You then heard it could affect GPS, communication systems, electric distribution, etc.
Well, they had predicted a category 3 solar storm, in reality it was only a category 1. But even still, the Earth has what is called a magnetosphere. Has something to do with that mass of molten metal in the core of the planet generating a huge protective magnetic bubble around us. We experience that magnetic activity using a compass.
Look at the image below:
That little ball in the middle, that is Earth. See how the magnetic field deflects particles coming from the sun?
What this means is that terrestrial networks, particularly the wired kind are relatively protected. But if you get a particularly strong particle storm, it can induce currents in a wire and that can cause issues. For example, the electrical grid in the U.S. is synchronized for frequency. Induced currents in the line will trigger protective mechanisms in the network.
And those same particles can play with RF gear too. Hence GPS satellites. But let me put it this way, GPS was originally for the U.S. military. I’m pretty sure that even back when they shot those satellites into orbit, they knew that they’d be a bit exposed out there. So they developed methods to shield the electronics, to harden them. If you’ve ever owned anything rated MIL-STD you’ll see what I’m talking about. My old Yaesu FT-2500 was a MIL-STD radio. Built like a tank!
I sold the FT-2500 and a Kenwood TH-27 to a friend and got a Yaesu FT-5100. And that was a very modifiable radio. I actually submitted a couple of the mods.
But here is the part that interests me. You probably know from reading the above that I not only have my amateur radio Extra license, I also hold a commercial radio license too.
And we amateurs and radio people know that the sun goes through about an eleven year cycle from solar maximum to solar minimum. When the sun is in solar max (or a couple years before and after the actual maximum) the E1 and E2 layers of the atmosphere do get charged by particles coming from our star, Sol, the Sun. And when those E1 and E2 layers are charged, a magical thing happens in the world of HF amateur radio. HF being High Frequency but the reality is today it isn’t so high when we’re slinging signals in the GHz range all over the place.
But what happens is that signals BOUNCE off those charge layers. So using an antenna that radiates outward some of your signal will hit the E1 or E2 layer and bounce across the globe.
So if you are an amateur, get on 10m, 20m, 40m and up and make those DX contacts. For while the news will spell gloom and doom, we know that a charged upper atmosphere is good for propagation.
So there you have it. Yes solar storms can cause some havoc but we’ve known about them for a number of years now and we actually build to accommodate the occasional hit.