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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Note on Emerging Science

Air Date: Week of

Bobby Bascomb reports on how spots on the sun could make for spotty service, from electricity to cell phone reception.


BASCOMB: Can you hear me now?

Cell phone users may be asking that question more often than they may like in the next year or so, and they can blame it on the sun. Every 11 years sunspots increase on the surface of the sun. And scientists say the coming cycle will be particularly severe, with a 50 percent increase in strength of sunspots and, as a result, an increase in severity of disruptions here on earth.

A sunspot is a dark, cooler area on the surface of the sun. Cooler because of a large magnetic field located in the area that inhibits the transportation of heat normally distributed by the sun’s natural currents. For us earthlings it means an increase in electrical disturbances that result in power outages, satellite failures, and communications disruptions.

The strongest recorded solar cycle was in the late 1950s. Of course, there were far fewer satellites orbiting back then and less reliance on electrical power grids. We can’t control the activities of the sun, but researchers hope that they’ll be able to predict individual storms early enough to give satellite operators and electricity providers enough time to get ready. That’s this week’s note on emerging science. I’m Bobby Bascomb.



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