Dropped calls are a major problem for cell phone users. An in-app survey we carried out 6 months ago showed that half of US cell phone users reported dropped calls as a problem with their mobile network. Many a mobile phone user has been prompted to turn their eyes to the sky and curse their cell phone provider as their conversation is prematurely curtailed by some quirk in the cellular signal. However, it may not necessarily be your provider that is to blame. New research by scientists at the University of Hawaii has shown a possible extra-terrestrial cause for these earthly frustrations.
The study, published this week in Nature Physics, shows a causal link between solar storms and dropped calls. Solar storms produce bursts of radio waves which can interfere with the radio networks used to provide cell phone service. The finding is especially interesting because it’s the first time that the link between solar storms and solar radio bursts has actually been proved. Peter Gallagher, who led the team from Ireland, said ““What we have found is fascinating – a real insight into how solar radio bursts are created.” Gallagher went on to discuss the methodology of their experiment “Using antennas in radio-quiet locations in Ireland combined with methods of 3-D imaging from spacecraft orbiting the sun, we have identified a missing link between solar storms and radio bursts.” So next time you’re blaming your network provider for a dropped call, give a thought to the possibility of celestial interference. While it may seem amazing that events on the surface of the sun can have such an impact on our day-to-day lives, dropped calls could be the least of our worries. The potential impact of a major solar storm on our always-connected world could be even more serious.
The most significant Solar Storm in history occurred in 1859, and is referred to as the ‘Carrington Event’ – named after the amateur astronomer who identified it. The Storm was so powerful that it set fire to Telegraph wires and produced aurorae that were so bright that miners in Colorado began making breakfast at 1 am, having been awoken by the event and thinking it was morning. A study carried out by Lloyds Insurance and the Atmospheric and Environmental Research agency suggested that the economic impact of such an event, if it occurred today, would be around $2.6 trillion. I imagine it would be something like a Global Goldeneye, a pretty horrifying thought. On reflection then, it’s probably better just to blame your service provider rather than thinking about the potential horrors the sun could be about to inflict upon us. As you can tell, I like to end these blog posts on a light and cheery note.
Photo by Rona Proudfoot on flickr (creative commons).