New GPS glitch would disrupt functions of many scientific instruments


Scientists warned that a serious glitch that affected the US Global Positioning System (GPS) could be a threat to various scientific instruments starting from Friday, April 6.

Experts have named this glitch 'week number rollover,' and it is expected to cause resetting of clocks, which will result in the spitting out of corrupted data. After the dire warning, seismologists and physicists are now busy checking their instruments to determine whether these devices are susceptible to the threat.

This new glitch is only applicable to GPS, and it will not affect the instruments that use Russia's GLONASS system, the European Union's Galileo network or China's Beidou system for functioning.

Manufacturers of susceptible instruments are also apparently giving instructions to update the devices so that the issue can be pre-empted.

As per experts, scientific instruments, especially seismometers are most vulnerable to this glitch in GPS. Seismometers depend on GPS receivers to time-stamp their data, and even a small glitch in the system could result in corrupted data output. It should be also noted that radio telescopes are using GPS time to stay in sync, and these devices may also get malfunctioned from April 6.

"The rollover is a serious issue. It means a big additional effort and work. In some cases, field equipment has to be replaced," said Christian Haberland, a seismologist at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam, Nature reports.

Interestingly, consumer devices like satnavs are immune to this glitch. as this week number rollover will not affect the positioning accuracy. These new devices are also built with advanced technology to overcome this glitch, and even the models can be updated by visiting the manufacturer's website to combat future threats. This fact indicates that mainly old GPS receivers and other instruments that lack updates to recent firmware will be affected by this new glitch.

"The best course of action for all owners of GPS receivers and any other hardware that uses GPS for timing or geolocation is to 'Trust but Verify' by directly contacting the manufacturer of any such hardware for advice," UNAVCO, nonprofit government-funded research agency, advised GPS users.

This is not the first time that 'week number rollover' is affecting instruments relying on GPS. In a rollover that happened in 1999, several instruments started spitting out funky date numbers causing serious issues.