Last Thursday, solar flares released by the sun threatened to disrupt the Global Positioning System or GPS. Millions of people around the world rely on the GPS satellite navigation network. Solar flares are caused when changes occur in the sun's magnetic field. Thursday's solar flare was rated three on a scale of one to five; a rating researchers believed could affect GPS devices. During the eruption, the electromagnetic activity released by the sun was sent toward the navigational satellites that makes up the GPS network.
The solar flares are a result of a peak in the eleven year solar cycle. The solar peak period, known as solar maximum, began in 2011 and is expected to last into 2012. The disruption to GPS signals depends on the number and intensity of the solar flares.
Researchers do not know the degree of GPS disruption by the solar flares because GPS technology grew in popularity during a time of low solar activity. During this peak period, researchers have warned of disruptions for radio communications and power systems along with GPS satellite navigation. However, since the massive solar flare on Thursday, there have not been any reports of widespread disruptions to GPS.