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Northern Lights to Blame For Satnav Failures

Northern Lights may be blamed for Satnav cockups and GPS devices failures according to researchers from the University of Bath; adding to the already long list of potential excuses which also includes electric storms and dodgy onboard software.

The natural phenomenon, known as Aurora Borealis, apparently causes Satellite Navigation systems go berserk due to the fact that satellite signals, on which SatNav are reliant, are interrupted when passing through the Northern lights thereby causing the devices to display wrong readings.

The results, which were unveiled by scientists from the University of Bath, could have a major impact in the way satnav devices are designed and could prevent incidents where automated GPS navigation is critical.

Aurora Borealis is caused by particles that carry electric charges of up to 10 million megawatts hitting the Earth's atmosphere and causing the spectacular lights that have puzzled so many for so long.

"Anywhere that the aurora is visible, it will cause disruption [to the GPS system]," Professor Cathryn Mitchell, who headed the research process, told The Daily Telegraph.

"Although most people in the UK can't see the aurora when it is happening, because of cloud or ambient light, it can still affect the GPS signal. We have just passed a minimum in activity but we are due to hit a maximum in 2012, which is when we would expect to see most disruption."

The paper have been published in the American Geophysical Union's International Journal of Space Weather.

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.