From KERA News:
Down in the office basement of the science building at the University of Texas at Arlington, graduate student Richard Bonde works on computer simulations to the quiet hum of servers. On a blue screen, there’s a circle – the earth – and there are colorful waves swaying up and down. They represent the sun’s blowing winds.
“The solar wind is coming really fast,” Bonde says. “It’s moving at a million miles an hour and it slams into the earth’s magnetosphere. So it creates this shockwave. You can think of it as an airplane moving supersonic.”
Those winds are caused by flares coming from the sun. Just like there are hurricanes here on Earth, solar storms rage outside the atmosphere.
“Space weather is when the environment in space changes and what drives those changes is the varying output from the sun,” researcher Ramon Lopez says.
Lopez says most of the time, solar winds aren’t harmful but in the worst case scenario, they can do some real damage or at least mess up your directions.
“It’s just like if you look at a pencil and stick it into a glass of water,” Lopez says. “The pencil looks bent so the pencil isn’t really exactly where you see it. So, that happens with GPS signals.”