Did space weather really knock out cell phone service in North America?

Thursday, 22 February 2024 21:53 UTC

Did space weather really knock out cell phone service in North America?

It's a hot topic today... North America woke up this morning with nationwide cell phone outage for AT&T. Is this caused by the two X-class solar flares from sunspot region 3590? A lot of people seem to think that is the case but this is completely false. Christian Harris from Space Weather Trackers made a great post explaining why space weather is not to blame for this outage. Correlation is not causation. Read his post below!

Now I'm sure if you're in North America, you've heard about the nationwide cell phone outage for AT&T starting early this morning, that some are actively connecting to the cause of such being the solar flares. In fact, space.com specifically states: "Two outbursts from the sun caused widespread cellphone outages throughout the United States on Thursday (Feb. 22)."

This is blatantly wrong, and is a huge reason the phrase "Correlation is not causation" is a thing at all.

First off, the solar flares only affect high frequency communications, radio wavelengths (1-30 MHz or so) that depend on a certain layer of the ionosphere to bounce back down to Earth for communication instead become absorbed on the dayside of Earth causing radio black outs for a period of time. Cell phones not only do not need the ionosphere to function, but they operate on frequencies three hundred times higher than these radio wavelengths that are affected by solar flares.

Secondly, the solar flares took place during the night in North America, which means the solar flares did not affect the ionosphere here at any point, so how would the cell phone outages become connected?

There are indirect ways a solar flare could cause issues with cell phones, but they are geomagnetic in origin, and rely on eruptions and affects to Earth's magnetic field, none of which took place during the outages. It is very likely the cell phone outages are due to something far more simple in AT&Ts network.

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