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Solar Storms: Effects on Satellites

This story is a supplement to the feature "Bracing the Satellite Infrastructure for a Solar Superstorm" which was printed in the August 2008 issue of Scientific American.

Feeling the Full Brunt
The harshness of space takes a toll on satellites even at the best of times. A superstorm would cause years’ worth of damage within a few hours.


Solar particles and radiation puff up the atmosphere, increasing the drag forces on low-orbiting satellites.

How to Prepare
If a storm were on its way, we could do the following:

  • Satellite operators put off critical command sequences. During the storm itself, they monitor their birds and override any spurious commands.
  • GPS users switch to backup navigation systems.
  • Astronauts avoid space walks.

Illustrations by Melissa Thomas

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