In DepthSpace Science

GPS satellites yield space weather data

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Science  03 Feb 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6324, pp. 443
DOI: 10.1126/science.355.6324.443

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It's not often that a scientific discipline gains a 23-satellite constellation overnight. But this week, space weather scientists reaped such a windfall as the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico released 16 years of radiation measurements recorded by GPS satellites. Scientists who study space weather have long sought data from sensors that monitor the status of these satellites, which operate at altitudes affected by solar storms. But few researchers have been allowed to tap this resource, which remains a military asset despite its global use as a navigational tool. Operating 20,000 kilometers up, these satellites are exposed to the Van Allen belts, two doughnuts of highly energetic particles from the sun and cosmic rays trapped by Earth's magnetism. Although purpose-built spacecraft like NASA's Van Allen probes have studied the belt, nothing can beat the GPS system for the frequency and duration of its observations.