Intensifying Solar Activity Threatens Global Communications; Starting Friday Night, Solar Flares May Bring GPS Errors

Courtesy of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Left: Gigantic sunspots appearing on the sun Right: An ultraviolet photograph of solar flares emanating from sunspot regions.

The National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, a government research and development agency, has warned that due to intensifying solar activity, there is a possibility of disruptions in the Global Positioning System (GPS) and other systems for several days starting from Friday night.

The sun follows an 11-year cycle, alternating between calmer periods and more active “solar maximum” phases. It is believed that one of the latter is ongoing at present.

According to the institute, numerous instances of the explosive phenomena known as solar flares have been observed on the surface of the sun since the beginning of this month, with several occurrences of “X-class” flares, which are the largest on the five-level scale by which they are measured. Since Wednesday, sunspots as more than ten times the size of Earth have appeared, and large-scale flares have been emanating from in and around them.

When the strong electromagnetic waves and high-energy particles that are released by solar flares reach the Earth, they can cause disruptions to systems such as the shortwave communications used by aircraft, and they may also introduce errors in GPS. On the other hand, there is a possibility that they may result in auroras that are visible even in low-latitude regions such as Hokkaido.