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Did Your TV and Internet Service Go Out? Sun Outages During the Fall and Spring Equinox to Blame

Updated on May 25, 2018
Catherine Stolfi profile image

Catherine is an independent research consultant at NASA Langley with degrees in English, Biology, and Environmental Science (M.S.).


Sun outages are a phenomenon that happens twice a year and your providers may send you notices about this, as it can directly affect your TV, mobile and internet service. In the northern hemisphere, satellite downlink sites experience reception interruptions due to the transition of the sun during the spring and fall Equinox. We more familiarly associate this with the changing of the clocks. We are also more familiar with the sun outages than the term it’s associated with in the scientific world, the Equinox.

The Equinox, coming from the Latin words aequus (meaning equal) and nox (meaning night), simply means that, during the peak, daytime and nighttime are the same length. Every day until the next Equinox the night will be longer than the day in the northern hemisphere and the day will be longer than the night in the southern hemisphere. These are in March and September every year.

In ancient civilizations, the spring meant the start of the planting season and these astronomical alignments were important for survival and potential food for that season. The Equinox, astronomically, happens when the sun rises on the eastern horizon, halfway between its extreme winter position and its extreme summer position. The equinox marks different events depending on the hemisphere; the September equinox, for example, marks the first day of autumn in the northern hemisphere but spring in the south. As the Northern Hemisphere enters the fall season, losing hours of daylight, the Southern Hemisphere enters the spring season and gains hours of daylight.

The spring and fall equinox is at the same time for everyone around the word. It occurs the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator, the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator, from north to south.

The Equinox spans 10 days twice a year; one is called the vernal equinox, which takes place in March, while the other is called autumnal equinox, which takes place in September. Satellite TV interference and Internet service disruptions are experienced as the sun passes behind the belt of communication satellites. The sun aligns directly above the satellite and the downlink antenna which results in service interruptions. There is a peak time during the ten day span but slowly depletes until the end of the equinox period.

Your cable TV can be interrupted and often your provider will either post an article about it on their website informing of the issue or actually send you a message via e-mail or snail mail so you’re aware of what’s causing the interruption if it were to occur. Your cable company may give a range of days to expect possible outages which are usually around the end of March and the end of September or early October. Interruption can include momentary freezing or buffering and even loss of certain channels.

Internet is not as commonly lost because your internet, even if from the same provider, could be using a different source link for the service to reach you. For example on Saint Helena, an island east of Rio de Janeiro in the South Atlantic Ocean, contends with island-wide loss of internet and telecommunications during sun outages because all the signals come from a single satellite link. Alaska has also been known to experience the same.

For those of us on main land in more populated areas your service provider will always link your service to multiple satellite transmissions thus we are safe from losing our online access. However, we need to keep our fingers crossed that it doesn’t disrupt the new episode of the Bachelor or whatever TV craze is happening at the time. If it does, stay off Twitter until your service is restored to avoid those spoilers!


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