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A volcanic eruption created a supernova bubble of plasma

An underwater volcanic eruption off Tonga last year created a supernova bubble of plasma.

The bubble was so strong that it disrupted GPS systems for several hours.

A powerful volcanic eruption in the sea off Tonga in January 2022 shocked the small island nation in the Pacific Ocean and spewed material up to 57 kilometers into the air.

Now, astronomers with RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia have discovered that the eruption was so powerful that it caused the formation of a plasma super-bubble that disrupted the GPS satellite navigation system over northern Australia for several hours.

When researchers measured the plasma bubble from the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, they calculated that it may have disrupted navigation systems as far south as Townsville for about five hours.

The plasma bubble is the largest bubble ever measured in Australia.

used in agriculture

The type of GPS affected by the outbreak is mainly used in agriculture, mining, and the construction sector, and those who tried GPS and didn’t already have access to satellites had to wait a long time.

How well and accurately GPS works depends largely on layers of charged particles, or plasma, in the atmosphere called the ionosphere.

The ionosphere begins 80 kilometers above our heads and extends more than 800 kilometers to the edge of space.

Navigational satellites, such as those in the GPS constellation, transmit radio signals through the ionosphere to receivers below.

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disturbance in the ionosphere

But the ionosphere is far from calm. There are strong winds and waves. The bubbles travel through the plasma and change its density, and when this happens, radio signals passing through the plasma from satellites sometimes interfere, and the signals can also be completely blocked.

Some of the waves and bubbles are produced by “space weather,” such as geomagnetic storms, in which huge clumps of plasma are spewed from the sun.

Still others are caused by phenomena below the ionosphere, such as earthquakes, thunderstorms, and volcanic eruptions – like the one off Tonga.

“complicated event”

The volcanic eruption from Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai was so powerful that it sent a wave into the ionosphere that circled the Earth four times and affected GPS signals in different parts of the world for several days.

It also created a giant bubble detected over Southeast Asia that was carried north and south by Earth’s magnetic field, possibly exacerbated by a geomagnetic storm detected shortly before the eruption.

“The generation of plasma bubbles depends on a lot of different things. It’s a very complex event,” Colin Waters, an astrophysicist at the University of Newcastle, told ABC News.

The study was published in the journal Space Weather.