Outage – definition and meaning

The term outage may refer to an electrical power cut or when an online service becomes unavailable. In fact, an outage may also occur when equipment is not working. A Sun outage is an interruption in geostationary satellite signals due to solar radiation interference.

We may refer to the loss in storage or transportation of a quantity or bulk as an outage.

Merriam-Webster has the following definitions for outage:

“1. A quantity or bulk of something lost in transportation or storage. 2 (a) A failure or interruption in use or functioning. (b) A period of interruption especially of electric current.”

Power outage

Power outages, power cuts, blackouts, power failures, or power blackouts are losses of electrical power to a specific area. The loss of electrical power may be long-term or short-term.

There are many possible reasons for a blackout. For example, a fault at a power station, damage at a substation, or damage to electric transmission lines. A short circuit or the overloading of electricity mains may also be culprits.

Power cuts are critical at places where there is a risk to people lives or the environment. For example, hospitals have operations and equipment that rely on electric power. If there is a power outage, people may die.

That is why hospitals have backup generators. As soon as there is a blackout, their generators kick in.

Mines, sewage treatment plants, airports, telephone exchanges, and shelters also have standby generators.

Outage - image with three meanings
An outage is the interruption of the electricity supply, a system, or signals from geostationary satellites.

Power outage – three types

We classify three types of power outages according to their effects and duration.

– A Brownout occurs when the voltage of the power supply declines. We call it ‘brownout’ because when the voltage drops the lighting dims. Dimmer lighting gives everything a brownish tinge.

A brownout can cause equipment to either perform poorly, incorrectly or even shut down.

– A Permanent Fault is a massive power loss. There are many possible causes. However, the most common cause is a power line fault.

As soon people correct the fault, electrical power automatically comes back.

– A Blackout is the most severe form of electrical power loss. Blackouts hit whole areas, such as a block or a few blocks. In fact, blackouts may even affect a whole city or region.

Blackouts can last from just a few minutes to several days. However, some can go on for months. After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, hundreds of thousands of homes were without power for months.

During WWII, cities had blackouts during air raids. In other words, when airplanes came to bomb the town, sirens sounded and everybody turned off their lights. Houses even had blackout curtains.

Sun outage

In the northern hemisphere, solar radiation sometimes interrupts signals from geostationary satellites before the March equinox. They are also vulnerable after the September equinox. In other words, in February and March, and then again in September and October, satellites are more vulnerable to Sun outages.

Satellites in the southern hemisphere are more vulnerable after the March and before September equinoxes. In other words, incidences are more common in April May and then again in August and September.

The two equinoxes are on March 21st and September 21st.

During those periods, the Sun’s path across the sky takes it directly behind the line of sight between satellites and earth stations.

This is when the Sun radiates strongly across the whole spectrum, including the frequencies we use to communicate with satellites. Those frequencies are C band, Ku, and Ka band. The Sun’s signals are so strong that they swamp the satellites’ signals.

There may be a partial degradation or total destruction of the signal. In other words, the signal either arrives with a higher-than-normal error rate, or not at all.

Members of stock markets in India use VSATs to connect to their trading systems. VSATs stands for Very Small Aperture Terminals. VSATs rely on satellites for their connectivity between systems and terminals. Stock markets are places where people buy and sell company shares.

When there is a Sun outage, the Bombay Stock Exchange and India’s National Stock Exchanges suffer.

Most of rural Alaska’s population communicates via satellites. Therefore, when there is a Sun outage, many parts of the state suffer.

Video – Colossal outage in USA 2003

This New York Times video talks about the massive blackout that crippled many areas in North America. It affected proximately fifty million people.