Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Solar Flares, satellites, and space weather

In my previous post  Sextants and GPS take II I asked the following question

"If you can think of a plausible reason for 4 waterproof, isolated GPS units (including one in a Faraday cage) to simultaneously die, for more than a couple of days, I would very impressed." (note this is a hypothetical situation)

Chris from Brilliant star was good enough to reply and give me heads up on space weather. So now we have at least one possibility, a solar flare, to add to our list of sextant requiring events.

After abit of digging around It seems their is a very remote possibility a large enough solar flare could compromise the GPS, Galileo, GLONASS and Irridium satellites and HF radio for long enough to make carrying a sextant across an ocean a good idea.

From the geology.com website they suggested that normal flares would only reduce the accuracy by 50 meters or so, not a big deal if you are navigating defensively. And they mentioned an 11 year solar flare peak 2013… although some sites are saying it might be this year.

However the chances of an large enough solar event (The 500 year flare.. NOAA ) to wipeout these systems for any significant period seems very remote, And it would also cause chaos ashore, so it falls squarely into my doomsday apocalyptic situation.

But by pure coincidence today has the largest event this solar cycle (11 years or so) according to (see I am turning into a journalist..and covering my ass) these guys .But looking at the chart from the noaa website this will not really effect anything, only being a G1 on the NOAA flare scales for the moment.

But it may be worth looking for an aurora tonight, and think about how having a good idea about space weather could help with the ladies (or whoever you are trying to impress..) I mean how romantic would it be if you plan that evening walk to coincide with a stunning aurora display...

So I will still carry a sextant... And I will also keep an eye on the space weather and also be aware that a strong aurora and poor radio propagation may also indicate reductions in GPS accuracy. But I won't otherwise worry about it, i'll let the NASA guys do that and will continue to focus on keeping the water out and my crew safe.

A Big thanks to Chris onboard Brilliant Star for the information and links.



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