A sunspot nearly 20 times the surface area of Earth is launching solar flares toward the planet.
Has your GPS running watch or cycling head unit been acting up recently? You’re probably not alone.
A new report claims a sunspot that’s almost 20 times the surface area of Earth has sent six solar flares toward the planet, which can cause disruptions across all GPS units, other navigation systems and radio communications.
The Wall Street Journal reported about the sunspot, named AR 12192 by astronomers, and resulting solar flares last week. Bike Radar took the story a step further, bringing recreational bike computers and running watches that use GPS into the equation.
“All GPS units can be affected,” Bifford Williams, a research scientist at Global Atmospheric Technology and Sciences, told Bike Radar. “GPS works by timing signals from multiple satellites to determine your distance from each satellite and triangulate your position. Flares and coronal mass ejections can deposit particles (electrons, ions) in the upper atmosphere concentrated towards the poles that change the index of refraction which can delay or change the angle of the signals. Too strong an ionized layer can block the signals completely.”
Garmin responded to the Bike Radar report, saying its devices are accurate within a small footprint and that they are rarely affected by solar flares.
The accuracy of Garmin GPS units is “typically better than three meters,” Garmin spokesperson Amy Nouri told BikeRadar. He added that solar flares result in “a slight decrease in accuracy for consumer grade GPS units, which is short lived and typically not observable by the consumer.”
Still, it’s something to keep in my mind when you head out for a run or a bike ride and your GPS unit cannot acquire a signal. Or when you’re on a workout and it loses its signal on a clear day on an open stretch of road.