Published in Technology
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Solar Flares Can’t Target A Specific Cell Phone Company

Solar Flares Can’t Target A Specific Cell Phone Company

Like many people across the nation, I was without cellular service for much of Thursday morning. The initial cause, reported by USA Today and other media outlets, attributes the outage to an internal technical glitch, but AT&T is still conducting a thorough review. The sun is currently in active phase of the solar cycle and has been hurling solar flares for the past few days. Many social media claims immediately attributed the outage to this activity. Here’s why that is probably not the case.

According to NASA’s website, “The Sun emitted two strong solar flares, the first one peaking at 6:07 p.m. EST on Feb. 21, 2024, and the second peaking at 1:32 a.m. EST on Feb. 22, 2024.” These flares were observed by the agency’s satellite called the Solar Dynamics Observatory. The NASA website defines a solar flare as, “An intense burst of radiation coming from the release of magnetic energy associated with sunspots.... our solar system’s largest explosive events.”

The flares are a part of Solar Cycle 25, which was initially expected to peak in 2025, but some experts now believe it could happen later this year. Updated predictions suggest that maximum sunspot activity, roughly between 137 and 173, could happen between now and October. According to another NASA website about sunspots, “The magnetic field lines near sunspots often tangle, cross, and reorganize. This can cause a sudden explosion of energy called a solar flare.”

That’s essentially what is going on this week. It is absolutely true that solar flares can affect GPS, communication systems, and other technologies. The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center says that the two strong R3 scale flares are not likely the cause of the cellular outage. They wrote, “.... Based on the intensity of the eruption and associated phenomena, it is highly unlikely that these flares contributed to the widely reported cellular network outages. NOAA and SWPC will continue to monitor the solar and near-Earth space environment for potential impacts to critical infrastructure and essential services.” And from a common sense standpoint, not all cellular carriers were disrupted.