Biggest solar flare eruption in a decade knocks out GPS

The biggest solar flare witnessed in more than a decade erupted on Wednesday, and had a significant effect here on Earth.

Solar flares occur when twisted magnetic field lines on the Sun suddenly snap and release massive amounts of electromagnetic energy resulting in giant explosions on the surface of the Sun.

They do not pose a direct danger to humans on Earth, but can cause disruptions to communication systems.

“The impact of the space weather storm will not harm humans and other life forms on Earth as we are protected by the Earth’s magnetic field,” Catherine Webster, Sansa spokesperson said in a statement.

On Wednesday morning, two flares erupted, with the second being the biggest one to emerge since 2005, emitting a coronal mass ejection (CME) (explosions of magnetic field and plasma from the sun), which travelled towards Earth at speeds in excess of 1 200km per second.

CME’s often follow solar flares and have the potential to cause geomagnetic storms, which can impact earth by affecting High Frequency (HF) communication, such as power grids and navigation and communication systems.

The South African National Space Agency (Sansa) has warned South Africans to be aware of possible disruptions to DStv and internet services.

“The impact of the CME has sparked a strong geomagnetic storm on Earth which can have effects on HF (High Frequency) communication, power grids, navigation systems such as GPS, and communication systems such as DStv, mobile phones and internet connectivity. Moderate disturbances are expected at this stage,” Webster said. 

Sansa said that high frequency radio blackouts across the daytime side of Earth affected HF communications across Africa, Europe and the Atlantic Ocean.

Sansa will be monitoring the storm closely, which is expected to last until Saturday morning.

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