Will Solar Flares Affect GPS Functioning?

Will Solar Flares Affect GPS Functioning?

Studies in the UK and in the US have shown that the sun is headed for a new solar maximum in the year 2011. That is a period of time during which there is elevated radiation and sun surface activity. This radiation, in the form of solar flares, affects the earth’s ionosphere and could cause data transmission delays from satellites to receivers.

One possible result? Triangulation errors. People could discover inaccuracies in GPS results of around 10 meters, and they could experience signal loss for hours at a time.

Since 2004 there has been minimum solar flare activity, and this is precisely the time during which the US massively expanded its communications infrastructure. There was, however, a solar flare eruption in 2006 that silenced some GPS receivers, but researchers aren’t quite sure what to expect when it comes to a prolonged period of increased solar flare activity. The upcoming period of increased solar activity will be the first since the widespread adoption of GPS devices in everyday objects like phones and dog collars.

Over the past 50 to 60 years, scientists have thought that the sun behaved predictably, but in recent years, it hasn’t quite been behaving as expected. Depending on how far off scientists’ predictions are about cycles and extremes of solar activity, GPS systems could be in for a trying time in 2011, when solar flare activity is expected to increase. It may come to pass that the weather in space has an effect on our day to day life, in terms of functioning of equipment and electronic gadgetry, just as the weather in our atmosphere does.

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