Will the sun knock out my GPS?

The mere idea of having to live without GPS navigation is a tad alarming

My knowledge of astronomy is...well, it's absolutely pitiful. But I have a vested interest in the news that solar flares could cripple GPS systems here on planet earth.

You see, my sense of direction is also pitiful. So the mere idea of having to live without my Mazda3's GPS navigation is a tad alarming. (Yes, I did manage to survive for the first 39 years of my life without GPS--and no, I can't figure out how I managed to do so.)

The GPS-crippling scenario relates to the solar maximum, a heightened period of solar radio bursts. I have no idea what that means. But Space.com's report quotes an alarmed MIT scientist who says that we don't know how often such bursts will happen, or how big they'll be--so I, too, am feeling alarmed. (Apparently, solar flares disrupted GPS back in December--I was lucky enough not to notice.)

The Space.com story and other reports I've seen have been kinda vague as to whether the solar flares would just make GPS a tad wonky for a short period, or whether they might truly take down the system for extended periods. And I do concede that if GPS stops working, there are greater implications for the world at large beyond my personal convenience as I try to find my way around the Bay Area. So I'll just keep my fingers crossed that the nightmare scenario, whatever it is, doesn't actually happen.

And truth to tell, my GPS system--as essential as it's become to my daily life--has been known to send me on wild goose chases, drop me off several miles away from my intended destination, or simply stop working. Mysterious bursts of solar flares are simply one more burden that we GPS owners will have to learn to live with.

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Harry McCracken

PC World
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