Space disruptions
Strange phenomenon creates havoc for satellite users

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

NNSL (Feb 28/97) - No, it's not aliens. But for an hour a day until March 3, long-distance communication in the North will be disrupted by a strange but natural phenomenon.

Described as satellite sun transit, the activity creates havoc for long-distance communication.

Fax machines, the Internet, cable television and virtually every application of satellite technology will be affected.

"People can experience anything from a lot of noise where they can't hear to a cut-off," said Anne Grainger.

Grainger, public affairs director for NorthwesTel, said long-distance service is disrupted when the Anik E1 satellite -- the workhouse of Canadian telecommunications -- floats in front of the sun.

This happens twice a year when Anik passes directly between the receiving antennae dish and the sun.

This allows solar flares to create noise on the antennae, causing brief outages and poor quality lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes, said Grainger.

The temporary interruptions occur in spring from Feb. 22 to March 3, and fall from Oct. 11 to 19. In Yellowknife it will happen between noon and 1 p.m.

Residents in every community serviced by satellite in northern British Columbia, Yukon and NWT will see or hear the affects of the phenomenon.

Aivy Reinfelds, general manager of NorthwesTel Cable, says certain channels on cable television will be affected, depending on the position of the satellite.

"All satellites are affected," he said. "Think of the technology, not the application."

And it's not just the North that suffers.

"Other phone companies in other places will be affected, but it depends on the location of the satellite and its relation to the position of the Earth as to when it happens," said Grainger.

The phenomenon poses a serious problem for phone companies, Grainger said, because there's no technology to bypass the interruption.

"There's nothing we can do except for warning people that it can happen, so that they won't make an important long-distance call or fax at that time of the day."