The effects of a solar storm that will hit Earth today may cause disruption to satellite and radio transmissions, the SANS Institute has warned.
Two solar storms erupted on the Sun on 1 August, and the ensuing stream of particles will hit Earth this evening and tomorrow, according to the federal Space Weather Prediction Center.
Johannes Ullrich, chief research officer at the SANS Institute, explained that ground electronics should be secure but that other systems may face problems.
"Long-distance radio transmissions and satellite communications are usually affected first. Given our reliance on systems like GPS, an outage may have indirect ground-based affects," he said in a blog post.
"Sensitive electronics may be affected, and outdoor radiation levels may be higher than normal. Long-distance power lines may also be affected by the associated changes in Earth's magnetic field as well as charged particles."
On the plus side, Ullrich said that people near the poles are in for a really good light show tonight as the aurora borealis should be superb.
The effects of solar interference are of increasing concern as electronics become smaller. Power transformers in particular are vulnerable and in short supply, so a major solar storm could cause serious disruption.
In 1989 a solar flare caused the power grid in parts of Quebec to short out, leaving six million people without power, and a similar storm six months later stopped trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Electronics can be shielded from the worst effects of solar radiation with some fairly cheap fixes, but this is not an area in which the mainstream IT industry has invested.
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