Oct 28, 2011; 6:45 AM ET
Earlier this week we had a major solar event that led to widespread viewing of the northern lights. It was beautiful, and for many people, it was the first time seeing this phenomena. I know it was my first. Just before 2 p.m. EDT Monday a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) moved into our atmosphere and a Sudden Geomagnetic Impulse was detected shortly after. The solar wind blew past 500 km/s. Moderate geomagnetic storming reached the G2 Level at very high latitudes.
This is the positive side of the sun entering into peak solar activity. However, there is a negative side of a busy sun that not many people think, or know, about. And it could be devastating to the electronically connected world that we live in!
Earlier this month, Telesat’s Anik F2 satellite (Telesat is a Canadian satellite communications company headquartered in Ottawa) stopped working. The HD signals disappeared when the satellite experienced a "technical anomaly" that resulted in loss of satellite services to its customers. Imagine if this occurred in a major market in the Lower 48! Not only did this service get interrupted, but banking (including use of ATM, debt and credit card transactions), telephone and cellular services, and radar coverage were all disrupted to some degree.
Anik F is one of the largest, most powerful communications satellites ever built. In addition to delivering HD television signals to Shaw Direct, it is used by Northwestel, the primary telecommunications provider of the northern part of Canada. The satellite malfunction also left communities across Nunavut, N.W.T. and the Yukon without long distance calling and data service. Even radar service north of the 54th parallel of latitude was disrupted, and the normal communications systems between aircraft and the ground stopped working.
The suspected reason for the was a large solar flare that caused the satellite to shut down and turn away from the Earth.
My point with this blog is to question how an area with a major population handles these above-mentioned problems. Imagine if the people in the New York Metro area could not use an ATM card or their cell phones. Imagine the panic and the helplessness that our 21st century population would feel.
My next blog I will go into the whys and hows of a solar event causing major problems around the globe, and how likely this threat is, especially since the sun will be in its busy phase for the next couple of years. Also, I will try to find some information on how the major communication companies are preparing to deal with a major solar disturbance.