Virginia Tech expert to study August solar eclipse effects on radar, ham radio, GPS

Posted at 8:48 AM, Jul 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-17 08:48:31-04

BLACKSBURG, Va. – An expert from Virginia Tech will lead an experiment to study the effects of the upcoming solar eclipse on different communication, safety and transportation systems we use on a normal basis.

The eclipse is scheduled for August 21 and is being hailed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It has been 99 years since a total solar eclipse crossed the United States from the Pacific to the Atlantic — specifically from Portland, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina.

Greg Earle, a professor of electrical engineering, will head up a team of faculty, staff and students to study the effects of the eclipse on things like over-the-horizon radar, amateur radio, and even GPS.

“Radio wave propagation is affected by the electrical part of the atmosphere and during the eclipse, we really have the opportunity to collect data and learn more about the impact of these changes on systems we’ve come to rely on,” said Earle.

The Virginia Tech team plans to gather data from a variety of sources, including radar systems, transceivers, satellites, ham radio, and GPS receivers, in order to analyze the effects of the solar eclipse on the conductive region of the atmosphere.

“Whether military radar, or consumer GPS signals, the eclipse is going to have effects on the medium that we would like to understand better, so that we can either mitigate them or use them to our advantage,” said Earle.

Earle’s research is backed by funding from NASA and the National Science Foundation.