How The 2017 Solar Eclipse Could Affect Technology, From Phones To The Internet
For many people, the concept that Aug. 21's upcoming solar eclipse could have any affect on technology seems very Y2k paranoid. And as someone who ended up with too much zombie pepper spray and non-perishables than I knew what to do with, I'm hesitant to believe that three minutes of darkness could create any real issues for us. However, there is some truth to the notion, and here's why: solar power and radio waves.
While the bulk of the solar plants are not in the path of totality, it will affect 17 of the utility-scale solar PV generators, which are mostly in Oregon and hundreds of other plants in North Carolina and Georgia will experience a 90 percent obscurity. In total, the eclipse will obscure the sunlight that's used to generate electricity at approximately 1,900 utility-scale solar PV power plants. That said, it's actually not going to be that big of an issue for the country. The bulk of the solar plants are not in the path of totality so there are no anticipated long term effects coming from solar power. Some generators will have to switch from solar power to electricity or another source of energy, like natural gas but most are built to accommodate changes like that anyway.
The real issue to consider for people who will be under the path of totality is that their cell service. You're probably wondering if it will get wonky — which is a totally fair question. But luckily, because we've know about this eclipse for a long time, cell services went ahead and put in extra towers to accommodate in the influx of people to those areas so that there's no strain on the cell towers — I know, thank God. So you likely won't have any issues with your cell service despite the fact that some areas in Oregon will go from a normal 6,500 person population to a whopping 40,000 person population.
OK but what actually might be affected, is something that you probably never even thought of: it's GPS and AM radio. Typically our GPS and radio signals bounce off of the ionosphere — a place that lives 600 miles high in Earth's atmosphere. During the solar eclipse, the ionosphere is expected to be slightly altered — a natural scientific reaction. And because of that, it might make your GPS and AM radio cut out. If you're planning on driving somewhere new for the eclipse, print out your directions ahead of time, just in case.
I mean honestly, it wouldn't hurt to just assume you might have some unforeseen tech issues on the day of the eclipse. Most likely it will be because so many people are using their networks and transferring images and streaming footage, but as my mother would say, it's better to be safe and have extra-non perishables than sorry.
Also, don't forget to bring your cell phone charger with you, whereever you go. Between taking pictures and looking at other people's pictures, your phone will probably be at 1 percent before you finish your breakfast.