Space weather storms can cause trouble on Earth. Strong storms can mess up radio signals, shut down electrical systems, and expose people to radiation.
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy L. J. Lanzerotti, Bell Laboratories, Lucent Technologies, Inc.

How Space Weather Affects Human Society

Space weather affects people and society in many ways. Let's take a look at the ways radiation and magnetic disturbances in space can affect us here on Earth.

Space weather "storms" can disrupt radio signals. We use radio waves for cell phone signals, television, and to communicate with airplanes. Space weather storms can interfere with those signals. GPS (Global Positioning Systems) use radio waves from satellites. Those systems are less accurate during space weather storms. The ionosphere is a part of our atmosphere. Radio signals can bounce off the ionosphere. Space weather causes changes to the ionosphere.

Space weather storms change the magnetic field around Earth. That can really mess up compasses! Changes to the magnetic field can make electricity flow in strange places. That can damage electrical power systems and metal pipelines.

Space weather creates different types of radiation. Radiation can harm people and other living creatures. It is especially dangerous to astronauts in space. It can also be a problem for people in jet airplanes. Some animals, like homing pigeons, have natural compasses. Space weather storms can make it harder for those animals to find their way around.

Satellites can be damaged by space weather storms. Radiation can damage electronics on satellites and can "wear away" at solar panels. "Strong" space weather heats Earth's atmosphere and makes it puff up. That makes more drag on satellites, which tend to fall out of orbit sooner.

Not all space weather effects are bad, though. "Storms from space" can produce beautiful light shows called the aurora, or Northern and Southern Lights. There are myths, legends and art in Arctic cultures about the aurora. For example, one Norse myth says the Northern Lights are reflections from the shields of the warrior-maiden valkyries.

Last modified April 29, 2016 by Jennifer Bergman.

You might also be interested in:

Cool It! Game

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more


Radiation comes in two basic types: electromagnetic radiation transmitted by photons, and particle radiation consisting of electrons, protons, alpha particles, and so forth. Electromagnetic radiation,...more

Radio Waves

Radio waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation. A radio wave has a much longer wavelength than does visible light. We use radio waves extensively for communications. Radio waves have wavelengths as...more

Space Weather Effects on Electrical Power Systems

Space weather "storms" can cause problems on Earth. They can even mess up our systems that make electricity and that deliver electricity to peoples' houses. Sometimes really big space weather storms can...more

Space Weather Effects on Pipelines

Pipelines for transporting oil, natural gas, and water are often made of conducting materials like steel. Very long pipelines (thousands of kilometers/miles) are used to transport oil and gas at high latitudes,...more

Confused Homing Pigeons and Space Weather

Certain animal species on Earth (such as the homing pigeon) are able to detect Earth's magnetic field and use it for navigational purposes. Homing pigeons have been known to reach home by flying over 1,6...more

The Thermosphere

The thermosphere is a layer of Earth's atmosphere. The thermosphere is directly above the mesosphere and below the exosphere. It extends from about 90 km (56 miles) to between 500 and 1,000 km (311 to...more

Arctic Cultures

There are people of different cultures and backgrounds who live in the Arctic region. Read on to learn more about two of these cultures. Inuit The Inuit are the native cultures that continue to live on...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA