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Colonists from Earth colonized an exoplanet and for a few decades everything was fine, but one day Earth is destroyed by a nuclear war or whatever, so no more communication, help etc with it. Then, all the complex technology have a problem and I would like to find out what kind of catastrophe could cause it :

It has to make satellites, spaceships, computers and modern communication like mobile phones not working anymore and you can't repair them.

They can recycle parts of the electronics but can't make a computer or a mobile phone (I want to make my colonists using low frequency radio communication).

Colonists still can produce electricity so not too much damage to the solar panels, still in order to use radio communication.

It doesn't destroy the ecosystems (and the colonists of course), I could bear something like fire but not a gamma burst.

I'm not sure that a computer virus or crazy A.I. could respect my first rule and it looks too much like 2001 so something else would be good.

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    $\begingroup$ I hope that "space colon" is a case of ESL miscommunication... :) $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Aug 24 '18 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ Do you mean colonists? $\endgroup$ – Starpilot Aug 24 '18 at 20:39
  • $\begingroup$ All of the colonies on the exoplanets (which are very far away from each other) all have a (the same) problem at the same time? That doesn't seem reasonable. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Aug 24 '18 at 20:39
  • $\begingroup$ Oops sorry. It's the first colony ever $\endgroup$ – Jean-Abdel Aug 24 '18 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ Is land line and fiber optic still viable? Would something like the massive ionization of the atmosphere, preventing any high frequency radio communications work? The devices work, they just can't transmit or receive a signal. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Aug 25 '18 at 3:24
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The gadgets just break and cannot be replaced.

Microchips are quite complicated to manufacture. There are few factories capable of producing them. The most cutting edge, the most expensive and specialized the factories need to be. Future microchips would need even more advanced manufacturing technologies.

The colonies have just relied on Earth based factories to supply them electronics. It makes economical sense, because building a highly complex factory just to supply a small colonial market would detract lots of resources from the colonization task, while the supply from Earth would not take much transport resources (for example, Earth could just provide the highly specialized microchips while a colonial factory would produce the cell phone/computer bodies where to put them locally).

Once there is no more supply, the colonies do not have the resources to build microcircuits factories (take into account that it is not only the factories; you have to build the tools, and extract and refine the mineral, and get the blueprints).

The existing technology keeps working during its intended service life, but in the end all of them break down.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think it's worth being explicit that you are assuming a FTL technology here. Colonies in STL scenarios are necessarily planned to establish a self-sustaining technological regime. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Aug 26 '18 at 19:04
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Salt storm.

salt storm

https://watchers.news/2018/05/28/toxic-salt-storm-engulfs-parts-of-uzbekistan-and-turkmenistan/

The Aral Sea has dried up. Windstorms now bring not only dust but dried minerals including salts. In your world an event of this sort happens. Maybe the colonists have caused it by diverting waterways for irrigation, much in the same way the Aral was dried by irrigation practices in the region.

The salt storm in your world has not only salt but caustic calcium salts and other minerals. These minerals corrode your electronics. Your colonists do not have their own industries competent to build replacement parts from scratch. Satellites of course are untouched but the ability to communicate with them is lost with other electronics.

Crystal radios should still be possible.

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  • $\begingroup$ But you still need electricity to produce the signal and a salt storm would probably destroy the solar panels $\endgroup$ – Jean-Abdel Aug 25 '18 at 9:15
  • $\begingroup$ You are right. And solar is boring anyway. Have your folks capture static electric sky charge. With storms like this there will be a lot of it. acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/newsreleases/2010/august/… $\endgroup$ – Willk Aug 25 '18 at 18:19
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Ionic Storm

Their star becomes unstable, and gives off a continual coronal discharge. The planet is highly magnetic. The two qualities combine to produce an almost continuous ionic storm on the planet.

Seventeen major flares erupted on the Sun between 19 October and 5 November 2003, including perhaps the most intense flare ever measured on the GOES XRS sensor—a huge X28 flare,[18] resulting in an extreme radio blackout, on 4 November. These flares were associated with CME events that caused three geomagnetic storms between 29 October and 2 November, during which the second and third storms were initiated before the previous storm period had fully recovered. The minimum Dst values were −151, −353 and −383 nT. Another storm in this sequence occurred on 4–5 November with a minimum Dst of −69 nT. The last geomagnetic storm was weaker than the preceding storms, because the active region on the Sun had rotated beyond the meridian where the central portion CME created during the flare event passed to the side of the Earth. The whole sequence became known as the Halloween Solar Storm.[19] The Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) operated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was offline for approximately 30 hours due to the storm.[20] The Japanese ADEOS-2 satellite was severely damaged and the operation of many other satellites were interrupted due to the storm.[21]

and

The storm affected over half of the Earth-orbiting spacecraft, intermittently disrupting satellite TV and radio services and damaging a Japanese scientific satellite beyond repair. The solar activity also sent several deep-space missions into safe mode or complete shutdown and destroyed the Martian Radiation Environment Experiment aboard NASA's Mars Odyssey mission. At the height of the storm, astronauts aboard the International Space Station had to take cover from the high radiation levels, which had only happened twice before in the mission's history.

Remembering the Great Halloween Solar Storm

This would render all except low-frequency communication impossible, and it would fry electronic circuits that were not thoroughly hardened and isolated. It would not effect solar panels that were fused, but it would travel along any conductive transmission lines.

If it were continuous, or almost continuous, for a prolonged period it would damage or destroy any electronic device that was not completely shielded. With no access or ability to repair widespread electronic damage, and those systems that WERE repaired, hit again by another storm, this would have the desired consequences. Any devices that WERE left intact would be used very carefully, under very limited circumstances, under very well shielded conditions.

I would be like repetitive lightning strikes on every grid.

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  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't it affect animals and humans ? $\endgroup$ – Jean-Abdel Aug 25 '18 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Jean-Abdel That is why the strong magnetic field around the planet. That shields the inhabitants and other life forms from the direct radiation, but also allows the extreme electrical effects. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Aug 25 '18 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ I can find no source that implicates any human loss of life to these storms on earth. Some electrical shocks of telegraph operators, some fires, but no injured humans as a direct result of the radiation. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Aug 25 '18 at 15:36
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A computer virus escaped from dying Earth (maybe it was even responsible for Earth's end, who knows) and, upon reaching the new planet, it bricked all electronic devices. Colonists don't have enough resources to repair their electronics and can't build new, virus-free ones from scratch.

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  • $\begingroup$ They still have electricity so why couldn't they repair their devices $\endgroup$ – Jean-Abdel Aug 24 '18 at 20:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Jean-Abdel they don't have expertise to clean up the virus, electricity alone can't help. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Aug 24 '18 at 21:01
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Earth was worried about the colony declaring independence, so the high tech was programmed to phone home periodically. If the colony rebelled, Earth could send a kill signal (or just stop responding), locking the tech down. When Earth-based systems were lost, the devices responded. Electricity systems still work because the people that setup the kill system aren't cruel enough to take away electricity too, just high tech.

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