Briefs: Special Topics

Wildcard: GPS Failure

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The Global Positioning System (GPS) maintained by the US government is one of several Global Navigational Satellite Systems (GNSS). GNSS technology, including GPS, provides positional, navigational, and timing (PNT) data and supports a wide array of critical systems in transport, communications, finance, natural resources, safety and emergency services, location-based services, and the military.

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Wildcard: The Splinter Net

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  • The Internet “is arguably the most transnational economic and political network in human history,” one that has “greatly benefited the spread of commerce and ideas.”

The US, along with many allies, has been a champion of a free and open Internet, and US-based multinational companies have reaped substantial rewards from Internet economic activity. Some other nations have sought, to varying extents, to control Internet content and access.

Because of its global nature, which provides a ready highway for hackers and spies, it’s been argued that the Internet threatens to weaken national borders.

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Wildcard: Massive Solar Storm

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On Sept. 1, 1859, astronomer Richard Carrington watched a massive solar flare erupt from the surface of the sun. The “Carrington event” sent a stream of charged particles toward Earth — producing the largest disturbances in Earth’s magnetic field ever recorded, lighting the night sky with beautiful auroras visible as far south as Cuba, and causing major telegraph outages.

The probability of an extreme solar-weather event as large as the Carrington event of 1859 occurring in the next decade has been estimated at about 12 percent.

The intensity of solar weather peaks on an 11-year cycle, with the next expected peak in 2012–2015. Measured elements of solar weather include solar flares, coronal mass ejections, solar wind, and solar energetic particles.

Solar flares emit streams of charged particles; when the particles reach Earth, they cause changes in the planet’s magnetic field and electrical environment that can, for instance, induce DC currents in power grids with the potential to disrupt and damage electrical systems.Read more…