Solar storms today: Elon Musk says his Starlink satellites ‘under a lot of pressure’ - Hindustan Times
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Solar storms today: Elon Musk says his Starlink satellites ‘under a lot of pressure’

May 11, 2024 01:50 PM IST

Solar storms: Elon Musk warns Starlink satellites under pressure due to powerful solar storm; NOAA confirms G4 geomagnetic storm with more expected.

The most powerful solar storm in more than two decades struck Earth on Friday. In its wake, Starlink boss Elon Musk has warned that the company's satellites are “under a lot of pressure, but holding on so far.”

Elon Musk (REUTERS)
Elon Musk (REUTERS)

“Major geomagnetic solar storm is happening right now. Biggest in a long time. Starlink satellites are under a lot of pressure, but holding up so far,” Musk said in an X post.

According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s Space Weather Prediction Center, a Geomagnetic storm has been observed. On NOAA scales, the solar storm has been marked as G4, which means severe.

“Starlink is currently experiencing degraded service. Our team is investigating,” its website said.

When will the solar storms end?

Geomagnetic storms will probably continue over the weekend as several more Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) are en route to Earth's outer atmosphere.

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Why are Starlink satellites affected by solar storms?

As satellites orbit Earth, they encounter atmospheric drag, gradually slowing them down. During space weather events like geomagnetic storms, this drag can intensify.

SpaceX has deployed thousands of Starlink satellites into low-Earth orbit over the years. On February 4, 2022, 38 Starlink satellites were lost, and the reason was a geomagnetic storm, a research concluded.

Before these 38 satellites could be elevated to a higher orbit, they were destroyed by the storm.

What is reason for the recent solar storms?

The recent solar storms mainly stem from a huge sunspot cluster called NOAA Region 3664, a whopping 17 times bigger than Earth. More activity is expected from this region.

Starting from 2019, this solar cycle has only seen three severe (G4) geomagnetic storms. The last extreme (G5) event happened during the Halloween Storms in October 2003. Those storms caused power outages in Sweden and damaged transformers in South Africa.

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How dangerous are solar storms?

Solar storms, like the recent G4 severe one, can wreak havoc on various technologies we rely on daily. Here's how:

• Communication: Radio communications like HF/VHF/UHF may become spotty, affecting emergency services and aviation.

• GPS: Navigation systems, including GPS, can be thrown off, making it challenging to navigate accurately.

• Power Grids: There's a risk of widespread voltage issues in power grids, potentially causing blackouts or damage to electrical infrastructure.

• Spacecraft: Satellites and spacecraft can face problems like surface charging and orientation issues, disrupting their operations.

• Other Systems: Even pipelines can be affected, with induced currents potentially causing problems. Plus, we might see disruptions in radio navigation and even witness auroras in unusual places like Alabama and northern California.

Authorities have alerted critical infrastructure operators to brace for potential impacts and take preventive measures, NOAA said.

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