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    Solar storm leaves GPS service intact

    News // March 16, 2012

    The solar storm that occurred in early March 2012 disrupted satellite communications and forced airlines to reroute some flights. However, says the US GPS services, no major GPS problems have been reported as a result of the event.

    The US network of Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS), which monitors GPS daily from over 1,800 locations, observed only slight changes to GPS reception in some parts of Alaska on March 7 and 9.

    Solar activity can distort the GPS signals as they pass through the Earth's ionosphere, causing accuracy errors. In addition, intense radio bursts from the Sun can overwhelm or jam GPS devices. This occurred after a solar flare in December 2006, causing widespread outages of GPS equipment.

    Solar events may also impact GPS satellite operations, although that did not occur this time. All 31 operational satellites in the GPS constellation remained fully functional throughout the solar storm.

    GPS spacecraft are built to withstand high levels of radiation, since they fly in a fairly intense region of the Earth's Van Allen radiation belts.

    More solar storms are likely to occur through 2013-2014 as the Sun reaches its "solar max" period.

    GPS users should keep this in mind and always have a secondary means of navigation or timing.

     

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