The danger is real, but exaggerated. All electronics is in a constant environment of radio noise from other electronics or deliberate transmissions, and it is designed to cope with it. Satellites are usually designed both to cope with radiation, and to temporarily turn off if the radiation is too strong. One of the bigger risks is just that a satellite is a bit over protective and turns off too often when it doesn’t need to.
Civilisation won’t collapse, but as the solar cycle heats up over the next decade some services might become less reliable every now and then.
Hello Tim and Dangermousegirl! Drew’s pretty much spot on. There is certainly a danger. The sun can emit intense electromagnetic radiation, and all of our technology is built upon using electromagnetic signaling. The biggest danger is for our satellites. The Earth’s atmosphere and the Earth’s magnetic field actually do a lot of good in protecting us from cosmic radiation, including that from our Sun. The protection our atmosphere provides is most easily visualized in the aura borealis – that is actually pulses of radiation from the Sun hitting our upper atmosphere. The electrically charged particles flow up the magnetic field lines circling our Earth to the north and south poles, where they plunge down onto the atmosphere creating a spectacular display! The Earth has protected us for millions of years. But now that we are launching satellites past the protective layers of the Earth, we have to take our own precautions. Space scientists and engineers are well aware of the risks. Everything we launch in space has extensive shielding for electromagnetic radiation so we are well protected.
Long story short, yes the danger is real – but it would have to be an awfully big solar storm!! Right now the sun is not too active, and it doesn’t look like it will be in the next few years (we are coming up to solar maximum and it looks like it will be mild – the most mild since 1928!). So we are safe for now at least!!