There is a new twist to the existing theory that satellite navigation systems are affected by the plasma turbulence happening when Northern Lights or aurora borealis strike the North Pole.

A new research by scholars at the University of Bath have discounted the theory and said no plasma turbulence is happening to affect Global Navigation Satellite Systems or GNSS and is sending scientists back to the drawing board. Their conclusion is that an unknown mechanism is causing the GNSS outage.

Both aurora borealis and aurora australis in the southern hemisphere used to be badly impacted by global positioning systems.

Auroras are produced by the collision of the atmosphere's gas particles with charged particles from the sun. The main reason for interruptions and interference with GNSS was attributed to the plasma turbulence from the Northern Lights.

GNSS is used in pinpointing the specific geographic location of a user's receiver. It is facilitated by systems including the United States's Global Positioning System GPS, Russia's GLONASS and Europe's Galileo.

The new research was led by Biagio Forte of the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the University of Bath in the UK. While dismissing the turbulence theory, the study said an unknown driver is causing the problem and its mitigation can be done with a new technology that resists such outages.

Visual Data Analyzed

For the research, the team collaborated with the European Incoherent Scatter Scientific Association or EISCAT. They set up a GNSS receiver and radar in northern Norway to observe and analyze the aurora borealis.

The analysis of the phenomenon's visual imagery taken by the radar team showed the detailed interaction of Northern Lights with global positioning systems.

The results disproved the existence of any sort of plasma turbulence. Consequently, the research team wrote that the interference must be coming from a "new instability mechanism," which is currently unknown.

According to the researchers, new insights have been deduced on the structures causing scintillation on GPS L-band signals at auroral latitudes.

The study has been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research Space Physics.

Significance Of The New Findings

The study is important in shifting the focus in a critically important field and highlighting the danger of inaccurate GNSS signals considering the expected roll-out of autonomous vehicles and remote-warfare.

So far, the use of global positioning data is extensive in aircraft, personal mobile phones, car navigation systems and aircraft.

"The potential impact of inaccurate GNSS signals could be severe. Whilst outages in mobile phones may not be life threatening, unreliability in satellite navigations systems in autonomous vehicles or drones delivering payloads could result in serious harm to both humans and the environment," said Forte.

Forte added that the new understanding will help create a new technology that resists interference and ensures safe and reliable satellite navigation systems.

The induction of 5G networks and autonomous vehicles is crucially dependent upon GNSS, requiring accurate satellite navigation systems and signals, Forte pointed out.

ⓒ 2021 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.