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Trouble with your cell service? Experts say the sun is NOT to blame

Two major solar flares in last 24-hours but effects on cell networks are unlikely
Posted at 3:50 PM, Feb 22, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-22 17:08:51-05

If you had issues with your cell phone on Thursday, experts say do not blame the sun.

The sun emitted two strong solar flares (both R3 on the NOAA Space Weather Scales), 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.

Per NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), "While solar flares can affect communication systems, radar, and the Global Positioning System, 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."

Dr. Derek Buzasi, a physics professor at Florida Gulf Coast University says it's merely a coincidence.

"Most of those particles came in and struck the Indian Ocean and that part of the globe, so they’re probably not responsible for the outage that we are having," he explained. "Although they can cause all kinds of problems, but in this case probably not."

If we faced the sun, he says it could have impacted cell phones. However, they could have been transient and not last long.

He said he hasn't heard of any big impacts yet. He said with a flare this size, which was put into the largest class on the small side of the category, some flares can have a big impact on radio communication and satellites. For satellites, particles can impact the electronics since they have no barrier to protect them.

Big flares could mess with power grids, he said, but not in this case. The last time it happened was in 1859 when the current from the flares set telegraph cables on fire from the powerful currents.

With the flares, some areas could seem Auroras. They are caused by magnetic storms, trigger by solar activity, like the flares.

Buzasi says we could see more flares in the near future.

"But the chances go up over the next year or two to have big flares because the sun has this 11-year activity cycle that it goes through," he said. "And we’re approaching the maximum, which will come late next year."

NOAA and SWPC will continue to monitor the solar and near-Earth space environment for potential impacts to critical infrastructure and essential services.