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Solar radiation might have killed satellite

flare January 20, 1996
Web posted at: 11:45 p.m. EST

(CNN) -- NASA scientists say a wave of solar radiation called a Coronal Mass Ejection may have knocked out the Telstar 401 communications satellite last week.

The AT&T satellite went dark on Saturday, January 11, leaving television networks ABC, FOX and PBS scrambling to find other ways to distribute their broadcasts.

NASA now says other satellites, including military satellites transmitting classified data, may have been disrupted as well.

The satellite failures coincided with a strong explosion of hydrogen gas from the sun, which sent a wave of solar radiation washing toward Earth.

When radiation hits satellites in orbit, delicate micro-electronics aboard can be damaged, interrupting satellite service, and in some cases, permanently disabling the satellite.

Such solar flares are not unusual. Similar solar storms have occurred in the past, disrupting communication services and electrical power transmissions on Earth.

Scientists say solar flare activity tends to come and go in 12-year cycles. An upswing is expected over the next few years.

NASA scientists are trying to sort out whether or not the solar radiation is the cause of the satellite problems.

They hope to release movies of the solar flares taken with a spacecraft called SOHO, a state-of-the-art instrument launched in late 1995 to study the sun.


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