September 12, 2014
“When the sun erupts, it douses the ionosphere with extra energy, and radio signals including GPS have trouble getting through it,” said Joe Kunches, Director of Space Weather Services for the Colorado-based firm ASTRA.
“Scientists at ASTRA ‘s Space Weather Center are monitoring the current geomagnetic storm that began today, and providing alerts and tailored products for our customers, as things develop,” said Geoff Crowley, CEO & Chief Scientist of ASTRA.
Kunches and Crowley were commenting on the recent solar events and the resulting space weather that is being tracked by scientists, including the Space Weather experts at ASTRA. A sunspot erupted Wednesday morning with a large, X-class solar flare causing a Coronal Mass Ejection. This follows another CME that happened Tuesday.
Coronal Mass Ejections are massive bursts of solar wind and magnetic fields that are released into space at speeds of 800 to 900 miles per second. Although Earth’s atmosphere protects us from these waves of radiation, there can be impacts on communications and GPS satellite operations.
Kunches said these problems will not affect those of us who use GPS for directions on our mobile “Your cellphone GPS isn’t really that accurate,” he said. “But people who do precision agriculture and need to know within a few inches where they planted their seeds, for example, may have trouble with their GPS systems for a few hours to a few days.”
ASTRA is particularly interested in the effect of these solar events on the ionosphere, which can flap and ripple like a sheet in the wind following solar storms. ASTRA’s scientists are expert in ionospheric specification and prediction of the impacts this sort of event can have on GPS, Communications, the Power Grid, and Pipelines.
Picture Credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA