Not just rain - the sun can wreak havoc on Sky TV reception too

That bizarre SKY message.
STUFF

That bizarre SKY message.

Recently, some Sky subscribers will have been faced with the following message on their TV screens: 'Sorry for the interruption, at this time of the year the sun's positioning affects our satellite. We'll be back on air in a few minutes.'

Say what? I've heard of rain affecting Sky TV reception before, but the sun? Is this for real?

Turns out it is.

The Optus D1 satellite that is used to broadbcast Sky TV and Freeview channels to New Zealand homes.
SUPPLIED

The Optus D1 satellite that is used to broadbcast Sky TV and Freeview channels to New Zealand homes.

Sun fade - more correctly known as a 'sun outage' - is a regularly occurring phenomenon caused by the position of the sun affecting satellite signals.

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At least, that's what Sky TV told us when we asked them.

The sun: Messing with TV reception on a regular basis.

The sun: Messing with TV reception on a regular basis.

"Twice a year in spring and autumn the position of the sun intermittently affects some services delivered via satellite," said a Sky spokesperson. "This happens worldwide and lasts from a few seconds to up to 10 minutes over a period of about six days."

While certainly not one to doubt the veracity of any statement made by Sky Television, I did deem it necessary to also obtain the professional opinion of some science-type person who could corroborate this.

Enter Chris Brandolino, a forecaster for Niwa, our National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

Niwa forecaster Chris Brandolino - not a sun expert. But he does know a thing or two about the weather.

Niwa forecaster Chris Brandolino - not a sun expert. But he does know a thing or two about the weather.

While at pains to point out that he is not a "sun expert" per se, Brandolino's summation of the whole 'sun outage' situation does seem to jibe with the one proffered by Sky.

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"I'm not an astronomer or an astrophysicist or a sun expert, but I know that when I was an operational meteorologist in the States this time of the year would always be a pain, because weather satellites - which take pictures of clouds - would be impacted," he says.

"They wouldn't be able to send or transmit pictures, because the way the sun was positioned relative to the satellite would cause issues."

OK, so sun fade is a real thing then. But why exactly does it happen?

"What happens is that the sun's radiation overwhelms the satellite signal," Brandolino says.

And when I scoff slightly at the idea that the sun could have such an effect, a quarter-century of meteorological experience kicks into high gear.

"If you think about it, when we get the solar flares that cause those beautiful auroras - either aurora borealis or aurora australis - those big solar flares, if they're big enough, cause disruption with cellphones and satellite communications."

"So the sun's activity - whether it's from a solar flare or very predictable things like the first day of astronomical spring or autumn - has a lot to do with our communications and affecting satellites, because of the energy and the radiation it emits."

"There was a big solar storm in the 1850s I think it was, in North America. It took out all of the telegraph lines, and experts say that if that occurred today, it would paralyse the world - which is true."

So there you have it. Not only is sun fade scientific fact, but catch the sun on a bad day and we could be facing a technological apocalypse.

How's that for a sunny and warming thought?

 - Stuff

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