Latest in Tomorrow

Image credit: SpaceX, Flickr

SpaceX rocket carved giant hole in the ionosphere

It was only temporary, but it could have affected GPS.
1251 Shares
Share
Tweet
Share
Save

Sponsored Links

Rockets can leave a mark on the atmosphere well after they've left, and SpaceX may have learned that first-hand. Researchers have determined that a Falcon 9 launch in August 2017 (the Formosat-5 mission above) not only created circular shockwaves, but cut a 559-mile hole in the plasma of the ionosphere that lasted for up to 3 hours -- it was akin to a localized magnetic storm. The phenomenon was produced by virtue of the rocket's light payload.

As Ars Technica noted, most rockets have a curved trajectory to reduce the effect of gravity and alleviate stress. SpaceX's rocket, however, was carrying such a light payload (Formosat-5 weighed just 1,047 pounds) that it could and did take a near-vertical path. Think of it as dropping a rock in the water instead of skipping it -- you're going to create a much bigger splash.

The ionosphere hole didn't cause much chaos by itself. However, more frequent and more powerful launches with these kinds of disruptions could significantly skew GPS navigation. Rocket operators may have to watch their launches going forward to be sure they don't play havoc with phones and cars on the ground below.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Comment
Comments
Share
1251 Shares
Share
Tweet
Share
Save

Popular on Engadget

Apple's first CES appearance in 28 years is all about privacy

Apple's first CES appearance in 28 years is all about privacy

View
GOG's Galaxy 2.0 game launcher is available without an invitation

GOG's Galaxy 2.0 game launcher is available without an invitation

View
Domino's GPS-powered pizza tracking is available in many more places

Domino's GPS-powered pizza tracking is available in many more places

View
Jaguar's I-Pace software update boosts the range by 12 miles

Jaguar's I-Pace software update boosts the range by 12 miles

View
Amazon claims Trump's 'personal vendetta' cost it $10 billion Pentagon contract

Amazon claims Trump's 'personal vendetta' cost it $10 billion Pentagon contract

View

From around the web

Page 1Page 1ear iconeye iconFill 23text filevr