How Earth’s atmosphere distorts GPS communications

New York: Signals travelling between GPS (global positioning system) satellites and your communication device can get distorted in Earth’s upper atmosphere especially at high latitudes, reveals a study.

The research has numerous applications. For instance, aircraft flying over the North Pole rely on solid communications with the ground.

“If they lose these signals, they may be required to change their flight paths,” said Anthony Mannucci of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), California.

Researchers at JPL in collaboration with the University of New Brunswick in Canada, are studying irregularities in the ionosphere.

The ionosphere, about 350 km above the ground, is a shell of charged particles called plasma.

Radio telescopes may also experience distortion from the ionosphere.

Understanding the effects could lead to more accurate measurements for astronomy.

“We want to explore the near-earth plasma and find out how big plasma irregularities need to be to interfere with navigation signals broadcast by GPS,” said lead study author Esayas Shume.

The size of the irregularities in the plasma gives researchers clues about their cause, which help predict when and where they will occur.

More turbulence means a bigger disturbance to radio signals.

“By understanding the magnitude of the interference, spacecraft navigators can subtract the distortion from the ionosphere to get more accurate spacecraft locations,” he added.

The findings were published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.