Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo


Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

{ action.text }

Kaiser says that because satellites depend on microelectronics, they are very sensitive to small changes in current and voltage. Magnetic disturbances from CMEs can wipe out satellite computers’ memory. Luhmann says severe CMEs can actually shift the Earth’s magnetic field, leaving satellites orbiting above the equator outside the field.

Satellites orbiting in interplanetary space, outside the Earth’s protection, get a high dose of radiation during a CME; their solar panels are usually degraded. Kaiser cites a two-week period in 2003, called the Halloween storms, during which 20 CMEs, including some of the biggest ever recorded, damaged “almost every spacecraft.”

Solar storms can also affect the transmission of radio waves through the ionosphere, which can corrupt GPS signals. Kaiser says the oil industry is very interested in space weather prediction because it relies on GPS to guide offshore drilling. “If there’s a solar storm in process…their GPS could be off,” he says. CMEs can also cut off airplanes’ radio contact when flying over the poles, as many long international flights do. When CMEs are predicted, airlines must reroute on short notice.

With warnings further in advance, says Kaiser, satellite operators “could power down or standby [their satellites]. It’s like turning off the TV during a lightening storm.”

0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Tagged: Communications

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives


Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me