Both NASA and Japanese scientists warn that recent solar flares could potentially disrupt GPS tracking, as well as other applications that rely on the GPS constellation.

Recent solar flares could potentially harm GPS, satellites, power lines, and more.
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory of an X3.2-class flare from late at night on May 13, 2013 Courtesy: NASA

Just to be clear, solar flares have the potential to affect much more than merely GPS tracking, but also every other technology that relies on the GPS system, and then some. However, this IS predominantly a GPS tracking blog, so we
felt it our duty to pay homage ;).

Solar flares, or sunspots, are not a trivial thing. They have the potential to significantly impact GPS tracking, as well as many other GPS-based technologies. That being said, Hollywood has done an excellent job of dramatizing things and, for lack of a better term, putting the fear of God in us. The aim of this article is to briefly shed some light on solar weather, and to help bridge the gap between the movies and reality.

We are currently in the 4th year of Sunspot Cycle 24, with many scientists predicting that the fall of 2013 is the time of the next solar maximum in the 11 year cycle. So, what does this mean to us? RUN!! Run for the hills!!

Seriously though, when we are in the midst of an active solar cycle and when solar flare activity is reaching a peak, the Earth’s magnetic field saves us from much of the worst of things that could occur, but not everything. Solar flares cause the emission of high-energy protons and electromagnetic radiation that is mostly stopped by our atmosphere. However, the ionosphere becomes disturbed which, in turn, can potentially disrupt radio communications. It is the potential of solar flares leading to geomagnetic storms that would have the most impact on GPS tracking and other satellite navigation applications.

Solar storms produce charged particles that can potentially damage high Earth-orbiting communications satellites, and users of GPS tracking devices and services would obviously be affected. GPS tracking is also a highly precise science, and its precision could be adversely affected if the worst occurs.Take comfort in the fact that, as far as we know, no one has lost their life due to solar flare tragedies. However, we could be wrong, but as far as we know. With all of the recent talk of solar flares, expect Hollywood to make a run on movies about the big, bad sun very soon.

There is, of course, much more to the science of solar flare phenomenon than this short post, but we figured this would be enough to wet your whistle. GPS tracking users beware!


We have more great articles in our archives on GPS tracking technology. “Is a Quantum Leap In GPS Technology on the Horizon?”