Friday, February 18, 2011

Solar Flares May Affect GPS

Sat-nav devices face big errors as solar activity rises 
The last time the Sun reached a peak in activity, satellite navigation was barely a consumer product.

But the Sun is on its way to another solar maximum, which could generate large and unpredictable sat-nav errors.

It is not just car sat-nav devices that make use of the satellite signals; accurate and dependable sat-nav signals have, since the last solar maximum, quietly become a necessity for modern infrastructure.

Military operations worldwide depend on them, although they use far more sophisticated equipment.

Sat-nav devices now form a key part of emergency vehicles' arsenals. They are used for high-precision surveying, docking ships and they may soon be used to automatically land commercial aircraft.

Closer to home, more and more trains depend on a firm location fix before their doors will open.
Imagine being stuck in the Metro because the train still thinks it's somewhere out on the tracks.  I use a GPS for work on occasion, and of course, I have one on my boat, which I use largely as an expensive speedometer. I have yet to need it to get home in the fog.   Maybe it's a good thing we're heading into what appears to be a far lower than average sunspot cycle (even if it's not obvious from the last few days).  I wonder if GPS equipped smart phones will start giving people misleading information and inappropriate ads as a result of GPS errors.

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