The Northern Lights – also known as or Aurora Borealis – interfere with Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) signals which are heavily relied upon in civil aviation industries.
Now researchers at the University of Bath have gained new insights into the mechanisms of the Northern Lights, providing an opportunity to develop better satellite technology that can negate outages caused by this natural phenomenon.
The presence of plasma turbulence within the Northern Lights was traditionally deemed responsible for causing GNSS inaccuracies. However, this latest research found that turbulence does not exist, suggesting new, unknown mechanisms are actually responsible for outages on GNSS signals.
The research team from the University of Bath’s Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering in collaboration with the European Incoherent Scatter Scientific Association (EISCAT) observed the Northern Lights in Tromsø, northern Norway, where they observed and analysed the Northern Lights simultaneously using radar and a co-located GNSS receiver.
GNSS signals were used to identify how the Northern Lights interfere with GPS signals. Radar analysis provided a visual snap shot of the make-up of this famous and spectacular phenomenon.
GNSS is used to pinpoint the geographic location of a user’s receiver anywhere in the world. Numerous systems are in use across the world including the widely known United States’ Global Positioning System (GPS), the Russian Federation’s Global Orbiting Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) and Europe’s Galileo.
The researchers believe this heightened understanding of the Northern Lights will inform the creation of new types of GNSS technology which are robust against the disturbances of the Northern Lights, and help influence GNSS regulations used in industries such as civil aviation and drone technology.