herald

Friday 1 August 2014

Trinity scientists discover how huge sun storms knock out mobile phones

Young woman texting with mobile phone

TRINITY College scientists have helped identify a link between solar storms and lost calls on mobile phones.

Massive explosions of hot gas on the sun give off radio bursts with the potential to affect satellites and mobile networks.

On August 21, Nasa said the sun fired off an intense storm, hurtling billions of tons of charged particles towards Earth at 380 miles per second.

"These particles cannot harm humans, but they can affect electronic systems in satellites and on the ground," Nasa officials revealed at the time.

Scientists from Ireland, England and the US have been monitoring this process using a range of equipment, including a radio observatory at Birr Castle in Co Offaly.

They discovered that solar storms create huge shockwaves that race through the solar atmosphere at millions of kilometres an hour.

This leads to the acceleration of electrons, which in turn creates huge amounts of energy and radio waves.

The results were published in the online edition of Nature Physics.

"What we have found is fascinating – a real insight into how solar radio bursts are created," Professor Peter Gallagher, solar physicist at Trinity College's School of Solar Physics, told RTE.

"Using antennas at Trinity's Rosse Observatory in Birr Castle together with images from NASA's STEREO and Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft, we have identified a missing link between solar storms and radio bursts," he added.

comurphy@herald.ie

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