We’re nearing the peak of the 11-year solar cycle, so be sure to bring a back up map in case your GPS fails you.
Solar flares can disrupt radio communications, including devices that use Global Positioning System technology, such as cell phones, airplanes and car navigation systems. They can also damage electronic equipment.
In 2006, research from Cornell University proved that solar flares can cause GPS devices to lose signal. This can cause these devices to temporarily misrepresent your location or otherwise malfunction. In fact, the Cornell researchers warned in 2006 that 2011 would probably see lots of GPS disruption.
This week’s flare (called a “coronal mass ejection”) registered M9.3 on the “Richter scale of flares,” about the highest level in the “medium” category. Larger flares that fall into the “X” category can cause global radio blackouts, but large M-class flares also can cause radio disruptions.
This is one of a series of recent bouts of severe space weather, as the solar cycle approaches solar maximum in 2013. Other major flares came in February and June, and more may follow. A good place to follow solar activity is SpaceWeather.com.