What Are the Effects of Solar Showers on Radio Waves?


Quick Answer

When charged particles and x-rays emitted from solar showers impact Earth's atmosphere, they can disrupt both high- and low-frequency radio transmissions, and in some extreme cases, can cause total radio blackouts for hours at a time, explains NASA. Extreme radio blackouts can last for hours, may cause GPS to be off by as much as a mile and even affect the positioning systems of satellites in low Earth orbit.

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Full Answer

Solar storms emit large amounts of radiation and light. When a large number of x-rays impact Earth's ionosphere, the constant disturbances change the path of the radio waves as they travel through it. This causes the information that they carry to be degraded; the size of the loss of information depends on the severity of the solar activity. Radio blackouts are rated from R-1, which is minor, to R-5, which is extreme. A solar radiation storm may cause some air travel to be re-routed, because pilots must rely on radio signals for positioning when flying near the Earth's poles.

Radio waves are not the only things affected by solar storms. Power grids are occasionally disrupted, and the influx of charged particles sometimes causes the aurora to extend further from the poles and have greater visibility.

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