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Rerouting? Your GPS may get lost during the eclipse

Virginia Tech professor Greg Earle will be conducting an experiment during the eclipse to see how GPS and AM radio will be affected.

ARLINGTON, Va. — While you gaze at the sky during the Aug. 21 eclipse, the moon may mess around with your technology.

GPS signals may be affected by the eclipse because they travel through the ionosphere. According to gps.gov, GPS signals are transmitted from satellites 12,500 miles above Earth and travel through the ionosphere, which extends to around 600 miles above Earth.

Virginia Tech professor Greg Earle will conduct an experiment during the eclipse to study its effect on the atmosphere by looking at GPS and radio signals.

“There’s a region that we call the ionosphere where the medium is instead of just normal air like we breathe, you have air that is sort of electrified,” Earle told WTOP.

The experiment will examine whether an eclipse impacts the ways radio signals behave. The professor said people can expect some GPS issues.

“Now, they won’t be affected in any catastrophic way. It’s not that you are going to be driving off the road or driving off the cliff or anything like that,” Earle said.

However, the system may have a difficult time trying to tell you where you are.

Amateur radio operators or people who use AM radio may also notice some changes in their signal.

Typically, these signals bounce around the atmosphere, reflecting off the ionosphere. This is often why an AM radio station can be heard a greater distance away from a transmitter than an FM station.

But the ionosphere is expected to alter during the eclipse. That’s what Earle is looking to measure: How much does an eclipse affect the ionosphere?

To test that, he has recruited many amateur radio operators to report what contacts they are able to make during the eclipse.

That information will go into a database, giving scientists a better understanding of this solar event’s impact on technology.

Earle is not the only scientist curious about potential effects of the eclipse. Numerous experiments will be conducted during the eclipse using aircraft and balloons.

WTOP’s Greg Redfern contributed to this report.


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