Sunday, March 18, 2012

NASA Ionosphere Study to Improve GPS

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A NASA research team in Pasadena, California has published results of a study of the ionosphere and how its irregularities can effect GPS and other communications in the far North. Working with the University of New Brunswick in Canada, NASA researchers are attempting to predict when and where ionosphere irregularities might occur in the future.

These ionospheric irregularities can greatly distort GPS signals, causing unreliable data. This is mostly a problem in the far North, but it is definitely an issue for pilots flying in the upper latitudes. This research also has plenty of implications for other sciences such as astronomy.

 For those of you who are a little rusty on your atmospheric science, the ionosphere is the upper layer of the Earth’s atmosphere–the part that interacts with space. This ionosphere is made up of charged particles, called plasma, which are produced by solar radiation and energetic particle impact. The distortion that scientists are studying happens in what’s called the auroral region, which is where the aurora borealis is commonly seen.

The study indicated that the irregularities that cause communication and GPS issues tend to eb larger in the auroral region than at higher latitudes, which may be due to outside factors. However, each data measurement is one step closer to being able to predict and therefore compensate for these distortions.

This study is being carried out by the Canadian Space Agency’s Cascade Smallsat and Ionospheric Polar Explorer (CASSIOPE) satellite, and is the first time that such observations and studies have been made from space.

For more information on this study, visit NASA’s website.

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