Bad news for GPS: Sun releases three powerful flares in one day

Cameras used by scientists at NASA have captured images of “significant” solar flares emitting from the sun this week. On Wednesday, NASA reported, a third solar “X-class” flare was recorded in a span of just two days.

The flares — short-lived but incredibly powerful bursts of radiation that bring goodies from the sun like gases, plasma and other matters in the solar system — are not entirely unusual. At least two of this week’s events have been larger than normal, though, and may interfere with high-frequency radio communications and GPS signals million miles away, according to NASA.

Scientists said that the first significant solar flare was recorded early Tuesday by NASA cameras that capture activity on the sun 24 hours a day. That flare, spotted at around 7:41 a.m. EDT, was classified as an X2.2 flare — more than double the strength as an X1-level flare. Around an hour later, scientists saw an X1.5 flare, then an X1.0 early Wednesday.

NASA said in a statement that “Analysis is underway to determine potential impacts at Earth.” In the meantime, though, more incidents could be expected.

“There is the chance that additional flares could occur in the following days,” Katy Galimberti wrote Wednesday for AccuWeather. As the sun rotates, the flares could travel in a more direct path towards the Earth. The radiation from such a flare may cause radio wave disturbances to electronics, such as cell phones, GPS and radios, causing services to occasionally cut in and out.

Mark Paquette, a meteorologist with the weather site, told Galimberti that solar flares are like a “burp” from the sun. “The ‘burp’ releases a stream of particles that comes away from the sun’s surface and sets the whole thing in motion,” he said.

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