We read that solar flares have increased again recently. At the same time, it is always reported that the plasma clouds hitting the Earth would, under certain conditions, disable all electronics on Earth.

I wonder if this means that the electronics will be destroyed or only temporarily inactive?


1 Answer 1


tl;dr: The electronics that depends on the power grid, or GPS or communications satellites signals will be indirectly affected, and older electronics plugged into the power grid might be overloaded/burned out, but mostly electronics on Earth will not experience any direct effect at all.

Sometimes people confuse these phenomena with Electromagnetic pulse or EMP. They are totally different phenomenon and the effects are very different.

Recovery time depends on replacing burned out transformers in the power grid and recovery from lost GPS time signals at cell towers and internet providers if that ever actually became a problem in the first place.

There are two problems; knocking out individual satellites in space, and power grids on Earth.

Effects on satellites in space

Satellites are exposed to the charged particles directly, and while they have systems to manage charge build up on the surface (as long as its not too rapid) the problem is that these charges are energetic an can penetrate the spacecraft surface and charge individual internal components inside the spacecrafts external "Faraday cage" skin.

On Earth this is not a risk to electronics, our atmosphere stops the charged particles at a high altitude.

However some of our electronics may depend on those satellites. GPS clocks are used to synchronize the internet for example, meaning communications can have some challenges, depending on how bad the local clocks (synchronized to GPS 1 pulse per second signal) start drifting until GPS is recovered.

Effects on Earth

The other problem is that the time-dependent movement of large amounts of charge in the ionosphere causes the Earth's magnetic field lines to move around slightly.

Moving magnetic field lines and large conductive loops fixed on Earth can result in high induced electric fields in the power grid, which can blow out transformers resulting in power loss and older electronic devices plugged in could get damaged.

However these changing magnetic fields will induce only very tiny voltages in human-scale conductive loops, so not a direct threat.

Additional further reading:


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