SCIENCE
10/11/2013 02:53 pm ET Updated Oct 11, 2013

Solar Storms Cause Dropped Cell Phone Calls And Amazing Light Shows

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Stop blaming AT&T and Verizon; all those dropped calls you’re experiencing may be coming from the sun.

Eruptions of hot gas, called solar storms, produce shock waves that travel through space at millions of miles per hour. The energy from their unimaginable speeds causes electrons to create radio waves that eventually reach the earth’s atmosphere.

These waves disrupt satellite and terrestrial communications on earth on a weekly if not daily basis, according to University of Hawaii scientist Dr. Jason Byrne.

Dr. Byrne contributed to a recent study by Trinity College Dublin, University College London and the University of Hawaii that makes never-before-known connections between these solar storms and radio wave disruptions on earth.

By combining high-resolution photography from two spacecrafts with radio burst detections from antennas in Ireland, the study was able to pinpoint where exactly solar storms originated on the sun and their exact impact time on earth. It was already known before the study that radio waves would peak due to solar activity, but the origin of the peaks and what specific processes were at work were still mysteries.

“A direct link has now been made between solar storms and radio waves,” Dr. Byrne told The Huffington Post. “If we can pinpoint the source, we can get a better idea of what caused the particles to come from the sun at a specific time, which allows us to possibly predict future storm arrivals at earth."

And in turn, possibly prevent communications disruptions, such as the dropped call on your cell phone, a radio blackout, or a signal-less GPS device.

The largest disruption caused by a solar storm in recent memory was a 1989 power blackout in Quebec. A very strong flare from the sun caused compression of the earth’s magnetic field and a subsequent surge in ground currents, overloading the power relays.

Just last week, a burst of energy from a large eruption on the sun caused the aurora borealia, or Northern Lights, to be seen across the Ireland sky.

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