Magnetic field model with simpler means

Satellite of the Swarm Mission (Figure: Astrium).

GFZ scientist Jürgen Matzka is the winner of the MagQuest competition to improve models of the Earth’s magnetic field (World Magnetic Model or WMM). The WMM is the basis for global navigation systems, be it map services on smartphones or applications in global freight traffic, for example with ships, as well as aerospace. Matzka shares the total prize money of 200,000 US dollars equally with nine other winners of the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's ideas competition.

A global model of the Earth's magnetic field (World Magnetic Model WMM) is needed in order to be able to determine the deviation from 'magnetic north' to 'geographical north' at any location at any time. Without this correction, our smartphones would mislead us.

The currently best data for the WMM come from the European satellite mission Swarm, in which the German GeoForschungsZentrum GFZ is involved through various scientific studies. The problem is that the mission needs extremely accurate equipment to measure the magnetic field, such as star cameras on board, and also very accurate magnetometers that measure the strength and direction of the magnetic field. Observation data from observatories on Earth are also used to calculate a global model.

In Phase 1 of the MagQuest competition, Jürgen Matzka has now proposed a radical simplification that could lead to a similarly good worldwide magnetic field model at significantly reduced costs. "All we need from satellites is to measure the magnetic field's strength," explains Matzka. "From ground stations we only need one directional component of the magnetic field, i.e. the vertical component." It is important that the ground stations are as close to the equator as possible to measure the direction of the magnetic field. Satellite missions could be equipped with simpler magnetometers and could do without star cameras, says Matzka. Even the observatories on the ground do not have to be equipped with the most expensive measuring instruments.

After the first phase of the competition, there is now a second phase, involving a total of one million US dollars in prize money shared by up to five creative minds. Among other things, a more detailed elaboration of the plans and concrete proposals for prototypes are required.

Further information:

Scientific contact:
Dr. Jürgen Matzka
Section Geomagnetisms
Helmholtz Centre Potsdam
GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences
Lindenstraße 7
14823 Niemegk
Phone: +49 33843 624-18

Media contact:
Josef Zens
Head of Press and Media Relations
Helmholtz Centre Potsdam
GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences
14473 Potsdam
Phone: +49 331 288-1040

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