The Effects of the Solar Storm of 10-12 May 2024

15th May 2024
The Effects of the Solar Storm of 10-12 May 2024

The 10th-12th May geomagnetic storm was of great intensity and duration. Several X-class solar flares erupted from sunspot AR 3664 and the Coronal Mass Ejections that accompanied them bathed Earth in energy at levels not seen in decades. It triggered bright aurora as far south as Puerto Rico and Mexico. The aurora themselves point to the intensity of the storm, and in aurora terms, it has been called a possibly once-in-500-years storm. The effects of the solar storm were something much more modern.

People have become increasingly worried about the effects of solar storms on our technological systems. This concern started after the Carrington Event of 1859 and increased in the second half of the 20th century. The fourth industrial revolution has only brought more devices that could be affected, directly or indirectly, by such a storm.

While the 10th-12th May occurrence was not at the same level as the Carrington Event, it was strong enough to cause concern about tech-driven systems. Such storms in 1989, 2002, and later, have damaged power line equipment and radars as well as caused satellites to malfunction and eventually fall out of orbit. Have any lessons been learned since then? Also, there is a lot of new technology that hasn’t been stress tested in real life. What could go wrong?

The effects of the solar storm on power grids

Solar storms can affect electrical systems because of the magnetically induced currents, sometimes reaching over 100 amps. Damage to power equipment such as transformers and relays has occurred in Canada, Sweden, the American states of New York and New Jersey, and the UK, among other places.

The solution, when possible, is to disconnect the most susceptible equipment from the power grid. This does diminish the available system capacity, but saves a lot of time, money, and effort that would be spent in repairs or replacements.

Removing vulnerable elements was the route taken by a New Zealand power company before the May storm. The reduction in capacity was announced ahead of time as well. The solution has apparently worked, as at the time of writing, no power outages or equipment damage has been widely reported.


Elon Musk reported that Starlink was under “a lot of pressure” during the worst of the storm, but that it was still working.

After the storm, ESA provided some details about what it took to keep the Sentinel2 satellite in place. Fuel expenditures rose dramatically as the satellite tried to keep on position and on beam.

Source: ESA on X


The effects of CMEs and geomagnetic storms on satellites and signals is well known. The knock-on effects are a different story, and not something that people might think of. For example, farm equipment using satellite positioning was ‘greatly’ affected in the early stages of the solar storm.

John Deere equipment uses what is known as a real-time kinematic positioning, or RTK, system for fine-grained control of device location determination. With RTK, a planting machine can accurately plant seeds at the centimeter scale. The difference in phase between the fixed receiving station and the roving one determines the distance with a high degree of accuracy – for as long as the signal remains predictable.

During the May 10-11 solar storm, there were reports of agricultural systems in the center of the US that use RTK technology driving around in circles. Accuracy went from one centimeter to 10s of centimeters on Friday and Saturday. However, the equipment in most places completely usable again on Sunday.

John Deere posted a notice:
“Please be advised that there is significant solar flare and space weather activity currently affecting GPS and RTK networks. This severe geomagnetic storm is the worst since 2005 and is forecasted to continue throughout the weekend.”


Some industries have learned lessons from the past; others are now coming to grips with their new-found vulnerabilities. As more information about the effects of the solar storm on the space industry, Orbital Today will update this article. Stay tuned for more!

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