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.