. Scientific Frontline: Space Weather
Showing posts with label Space Weather. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Space Weather. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

New technology improves space weather monitoring

The Compact Space Plasma Analyzer will improve space weather prediction.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory

Peaceful though it may seem from Earth, space is beset by “weather” that can prove perilous for the sensitive — and expensive — technology aboard the spacecraft and satellites increasingly populating the realms outside our atmosphere. To meet that challenge, Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers have developed the Compact Space Plasma Analyzer, a small and cost-efficient space sensor capable of measuring space weather, which will help protect technology in orbit.

“Space weather, which is made up of charged particles from the sun, presents a range of challenges concerning the design, development and operation of satellites and spacecraft,” said Carlos Maldonado, principal investigator of the Compact Space Plasma Analyzer and a researcher in the Lab’s Space Science and Applications group. “Of particular interest to the space community are the interactions between space systems operating in plasma environments, which can lead to potentially hazardous levels of differential charging and cause interference for GPS and communication signals.”

A long-standing goal in the space weather community is to advance the capability to predict space weather events days in advance, in the same way that terrestrial weather forecasting enables one to anticipate a week of sunshine or snow.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Study Offers Improved Look at Earth’s Ionosphere

Radio signal plasma wave from a parallel magnetic field. This animation shows the Faraday rotation phenomena in black. The grid at the end of the propagation path is the antenna, and the black line shows how the plane of polarization of the radio signal projects onto it.
Image Credit: E. Jensen/PSI.

New measuring techniques will enable improved measurements of the Earth’s ionosphere, a key to studying and reducing the impact of space weather.

Radio signals have been used to study the density of plasma since the 1920s. Transmitting radio sources include ground-based ionosondes (special radar for the examination of the ionosphere), astronomical phenomena such as pulsars and more recently spacecraft signals used for transmitting data. For example, Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) radio signals are used to measure the density of Earth’s ionosphere. However, the response of the radio signal to the ionospheric plasma is more complicated than simply varying as a function of density. The Earth’s magnetic field affects its electromagnetic wave fluctuations as well. For example, Faraday rotation is a well-known phenomenon, as shown in the image above. But, as a technique for measuring magnetic field, Faraday rotation is limited to just the portion that is oriented in the correct direction. Our discovery complements Faraday rotation enabling a complete measurement of magnetic field strength.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The importance of the Earth's atmosphere in creating the large storms that affect satellite communications

Illustration Credit: ERG Science Team

A study from an international team led by researchers from Nagoya University in Japan and the University of New Hampshire in the United States has revealed the importance of the Earth’s upper atmosphere in determining how large geomagnetic storms develop. Their findings reveal the previously underestimated importance of the Earth’s atmosphere. Understanding the factors that cause geomagnetic storms is important because they can have a direct impact on the Earth’s magnetic field such as causing unwanted currents in the power grid and disrupting radio signals and GPS. This research may help predict the storms that will have the greatest consequences. 

Scientists have long known that geomagnetic storms are associated with the activities of the Sun. Hot charged particles make up the Sun's outer layer, the one visible to us. These particles flow out of the Sun creating the ‘solar wind’, and interact with objects in space, such as the Earth. When the particles reach the magnetic field surrounding our planet, known as the magnetosphere, they interact with it. The interactions between the charged particles and magnetic fields lead to space weather, the conditions in space that can affect the Earth and technological systems such as satellites.  

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

New patterns in Sun’s layers could help scientists solve solar mystery

In this image, the fine-structure of the quiet Sun is observed at its surface or photosphere.
Image Credit: NSF/AURA/NSO

Astronomers are one step closer to understanding one of the most enduring solar mysteries, having captured unprecedented data from the Sun’s magnetic field.

New research from an international team may explain one of the biggest conundrums in astrophysics – why the outermost layer of the Sun’s atmosphere is hotter than the surface

Groundbreaking data collected from the world's most powerful solar telescopes shows a snake-like pattern in the Sun’s magnetic fields that could contribute to the heating of the Sun’s outermost atmosphere

The project, which includes scientists across a wide range of institutions on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, has opened new avenues in solar physics

Astronomers are one step closer to understanding one of the most enduring solar mysteries, having captured unprecedented data from the Sun’s magnetic field.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Researchers identify largest ever solar storm in tree rings

Artist illustration of events on the sun changing the conditions in Near-Earth space. Suggested imagery from NASA, as recommended by our researchers.
Illustration Credit: NASA

An international team of scientists have discovered a huge spike in radiocarbon levels 14,300 years ago by analyzing ancient tree-rings found in the French Alps.

The radiocarbon spike was caused by a massive solar storm, the biggest ever identified.  A similar solar storm today would be catastrophic for modern technological society – potentially wiping out telecommunications and satellite systems, causing massive electricity grid blackouts, and costing us billions of pounds.  

The academics are warning of the importance of understanding such storms to protect our global communications and energy infrastructure for the future. 

Monday, October 9, 2023

Space weather disrupts nocturnal bird migration

A Baltimore oriole in flight. Orioles are nocturnal migratory birds.
Photo Credit: Andrew Dreelin

It’s well-known that birds and other animals rely on Earth’s magnetic field for long-distance navigation during seasonal migrations.

But how do periodic disruptions of the planet’s magnetic field, caused by solar flares and other energetic outbursts, affect the reliability of those biological navigation systems?

University of Michigan researchers and their colleagues used massive, long-term datasets from networks of U.S. Doppler weather radar stations and ground-based magnetometers—devices that measure the intensity of local magnetic fields—to test for a possible link between geomagnetic disturbances and disruptions to nocturnal bird migration.

They found a 9%-17% reduction in the number of migrating birds, in both spring and fall, during severe space weather events. And the birds that chose to migrate during such events seemed to experience more difficulty navigating, especially under overcast conditions in autumn.

The new findings, published online Oct. 9 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provide correlational evidence for previously unknown relationships between nocturnal bird migration dynamics and geomagnetic disturbances, according to the researchers.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Parker Solar Probe flies into the fast solar wind and finds its source

Artist’s concept of the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft approaching the sun. Launched in 2018, the probe is increasing our ability to forecast major space-weather events that impact life on Earth.
Illustration Credit: NASA

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has flown close enough to the sun to detect the fine structure of the solar wind close to where it is generated at the sun’s surface, revealing details that are lost as the wind exits the corona as a uniform blast of charged particles.

It’s like seeing jets of water emanating from a showerhead through the blast of water hitting you in the face.

In a paper to be published in the journal Nature, a team of scientists led by Stuart D. Bale, a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and James Drake of the University of Maryland-College Park, report that the Parker Solar Probe has detected streams of high-energy particles that match the supergranulation flows within coronal holes, which suggests that these are the regions where the so-called “fast” solar wind originates.

Coronal holes are areas where magnetic field lines emerge from the surface without looping back inward, thus forming open field lines that expand outward and fill most of the space around the sun. These holes are usually at the poles during the sun’s quiet periods, so the fast solar wind they generate doesn’t hit Earth. But when the sun becomes active every 11 years as its magnetic field flips, these holes appear all over the surface, generating bursts of solar wind aimed directly at Earth.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Latest research provides SwRI scientists close-up views of energetic particle jets ejected from the sun

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) scientists observed the first close-up views of the source of jets of energetic particles expelled from the Sun. The high-resolution images of the solar event were provided by ESA and NASA Solar Orbiter, a Sun-observing satellite launched in 2020.
Image Credit: Courtesy of SwRI

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) scientists observed the first close-ups of a source of energetic particles expelled from the Sun, viewing them from just half an astronomical unit (AU), or about 46.5 million miles. The high-resolution images of the solar event were provided by ESA’s Solar Orbiter, a Sun-observing satellite launched in 2020.

“In 2022, the Solar Orbiter detected six recurrent energetic ion injections. Particles emanated along the jets, a signature of magnetic reconnection involving field lines open to interplanetary space,” said SwRI’s Dr. Radoslav Bucik, the lead author of a new study published this month in Astronomy & Astrophysics Letters. “The Solar Orbiter frequently detects this type of activity, but this period showed very unusual elemental compositions.”

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

SwRI selected for phase a study to develop next-generation NOAA coronagraph

SwRI used internal funding to develop SwSCOR three-stage lens system mounted behind a single-pylon external occulter to minimize distortion across the field of view. A polarizer wheel is placed in front of the first lens. The current Phase A study will study options for the external occulter.
Illustration Credit: Courtesy of SwRI

NASA has selected Southwest Research Institute for a Phase A study to develop SwRI’s Space Weather Solar Coronagraph (SwSCOR) on behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA’s Space Weather Next Program is charged with providing critical data for its space weather prediction center. SwRI is one of five organizations developing a definition-phase study to produce the next-generation NOAA L1 Series COR instrument to detect and characterize Earth-directed coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

CMEs are huge bursts of coronal plasma threaded with intense magnetic fields ejected from the Sun over the course of several hours. CMEs arriving at Earth can generate geomagnetic storms, which can cause anomalies in and disruptions to modern conveniences such as electronic grids and GPS systems. Coronagraphs are instruments that block out light emitted by the Sun’s surface so that its outer atmosphere, or corona, can be observed.

Friday, January 27, 2023

A.I. used to predict space weather like Coronal Mass Ejections

 Dr Andy Smith of Northumbria University
Photo Credit: Northumbria University/Simon Veit-Wilson.

A physicist from Northumbria University has received over £500,000 to create AI that will safeguard the Earth from destructive space storms.

Coronal Mass Ejections, which are solar eruptions from the Sun, can send plasma hurtling towards Earth at high speeds. These space storms can cause severe disruptions to power grids and communication systems.

With our increasing reliance on technology, solar storms pose a serious threat to our everyday lives, leading to severe space weather being added to the UK National Risk Assessment for the first time in 2011.

Researcher and his team analyzed huge amounts of data from satellites and space missions over the last 20 years to gain a better understanding of the conditions under which storms are likely to occur.

Monday, January 23, 2023

How a 3 cm glass sphere could help scientists understand space weather

UCLA researchers effectively reproduced the type of gravity that exists on or near stars and other planets inside of a glass sphere 3 centimeters in diameter.
Photo Credit: John Koulakis/UCLA 

Solar flares and other types of space weather can wreak havoc with spaceflight and with telecommunications and other types of satellites orbiting the Earth. But, to date, scientists’ ability to research ways to overcome that challenge has been severely limited. That’s because experiments they conduct in laboratories here on Earth are affected by gravity in ways that are so different from conditions in space.

But a new study by UCLA physicists could, at last, help conquer that issue — which could be a big step toward safeguarding humans (and equipment) during space expeditions, and to ensuring the proper functioning of satellites. The paper is published in Physical Review Letters.

The UCLA researchers effectively reproduced the type of gravity that exists on or near stars and other planets inside of a glass sphere measuring 3 centimeters in diameter (about 1.2 inches). To do so, they used sound waves to create a spherical gravitational field and generate plasma convection — a process in which gas cools as it nears the surface of a body and then reheats and rises again as it nears the core — creating a fluid current that in turn generates a magnetic current.

The achievement could help scientists overcome the limiting role of gravity in experiments that are intended to model convection that occurs in stars and other planets.

Monday, December 12, 2022

SwRI Study Describes First Ultraviolet Imaging of Sun's Middle Corona

Video Credit: Courtesy of SwRI/NOAA A

A team of researchers from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), NASA and the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) have discovered web-like plasma structures in the Sun’s middle corona. The researchers describe their innovative new observation method, imaging the middled corona in ultraviolet (UV) wavelength, in a new study published in Nature Astronomy. The findings could lead to a better understanding of the solar wind’s origins and its interactions with the rest of the solar system.

Since 1995, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has observed the Sun’s corona with the Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph (LASCO) stationed aboard the NASA and European Space Agency Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft to monitor space weather that could affect the Earth. But LASCO has a gap in observations that obscures our view of the middle solar corona, where the solar wind originates.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Tree rings offer insight into devastating radiation storms

A University of Queensland study has shed new light on a mysterious, unpredictable and potentially devastating kind of astrophysical event.

A team led by Dr Benjamin Pope from UQ’s School of Mathematics and Physics applied cutting edge statistics to data from millennia-old trees, to find out more about radiation ‘storms.

“These huge bursts of cosmic radiation, known as Miyake Events, have occurred approximately once every thousand years but what causes them is unclear,” Dr Pope said. “The leading theory is that they are huge solar flares.

“We need to know more, because if one of these happened today, it would destroy technology including satellites, internet cables, long-distance power lines and transformers.

“The effect on global infrastructure would be unimaginable.”

Enter the humble tree ring.

First author UQ undergraduate math student Qingyuan Zhang developed software to analyze every available piece of data on tree rings.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

New forecasting tool can give an early warning of solar storms

Solar flares can reach velocities of up to several million kilometers per hour.
Illustration: Matti Ahlgren/Aalto University

Associate Professor Maarit Korpi-Lagg has received funding from the European Research Council to develop a forecasting tool to locate the source regions for the eruption of solar flares already a few days before they emerge on the Sun’s surface.

The Earth is constantly bombarded by a stream of particles from the Sun, called solar wind. This stream can escalate into storms, which are born from massive solar flares spewing out from the Sun’s highly magnetized active regions. When strong solar storms hit Earth, they can have massive repercussions for telecommunications, global positioning systems and electrical grids.

In July 2012, the most severe solar flare in 150 years was spat out by the Sun. Fortunately, the resulting solar storm missed Earth. Had it been directed toward us; it would have had the potential to leave societies and the global economy in shatters and taken years to recover from.

‘Only the worst solar storms are a real threat to human life. However, the costs of fixing damages and shielding our digitalized infrastructure from them, are very high,’ says Maarit Korpi-Lagg, associate professor at Aalto University.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

The Sun is spinning round again

The model developed by the scientists includes the history of the rotation of the sun but also the magnetic instabilities that it generates.
Credit: Sylvia Ekström / UNIGE

All was amiss with the Sun! In the early 2000s, a new set of data brought down the chemical abundances at the surface of the Sun, contradicting the values predicted by the standard models used by astrophysicists. Often challenged, these new abundances made it through several new analyses. As they seemed to prove correct, it was thus up to the solar models to adapt, especially since they serve as a reference for the study of stars in general. A team of astronomers from the University of Geneva, Switzerland (UNIGE) in collaboration with the Université de Liège, has developed a new theoretical model that solves part of the problem: considering the Sun’s rotation, that varied through time, and the magnetic fields it generates, they have been able to explain the chemical structure of the Sun. The results of this study are published in Nature Astronomy.

“The Sun is the star that we can best characterize, so it constitutes a fundamental test for our understanding of stellar physics. We have abundance measurements of its chemical elements, but also measurements of its internal structure, like in the case of Earth thanks to seismology”, explains Patrick Eggenberger, a researcher at the Department of astronomy of the UNIGE and first author of the study.

These observations should fall in line with the results predicted by the theoretical models which aim at explaining the Sun’s evolution. How does the Sun burn its hydrogen in the core? How is energy produced there and then transported towards the surface? How do chemical elements drift within the Sun, influenced both by rotation and magnetic fields?

Friday, January 14, 2022

New research may help scientists unravel the physics of the solar wind

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, provides insight into how solar wind is generated and accelerated.
Photo credits: Cynthia Cattell, NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben

A new study led by University of Minnesota Twin Cities researchers, using data from NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, provides insight into what generates and accelerates the solar wind, a stream of charged particles released from the sun’s corona. Understanding how the solar wind works can help scientists predict “space weather,” or the response to solar activity—such as solar flares—that can impact both astronauts in space and much of the technology people on Earth depend on.

The paper is published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, a scientific journal from the American Astronomical Society (AAS) that publishes high-impact astrophysical research.

The scientists used data gathered from Parker Solar Probe, which launched in 2018 with the goal to help scientists understand what heats the Sun’s corona (the outer atmosphere of the sun) and generates the solar wind. To answer these questions, scientists need to understand the ways in which energy flows from the sun. The latest round of data was obtained in August 2021 at a distance of 4.8 million miles from the sun—the closest a spacecraft has ever been to the star.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Coronal rain on a cold star

Coronal rain on the sun with Earth superimposed for scale. New high-resolution spectrographic observations of a flare on a faint distant star using the Penn State Habitable-zone Planet Finder could contain the first evidence of a similar phenomenon on an ultracool, small M-dwarf star.
Credit: NASA/SDO

High-resolution spectroscopic observations of a stellar flare on a small, cool star indicate the possibility of coronal rain, a phenomenon that has been observed on our sun but not yet confirmed on a star of this size. This faint star, known as vB 10, which is about a tenth the size of the sun and produces less than 1% of the sun’s energy, was studied using the Penn State Habitable-zone Planet Finder (HPF) at the large Hobby Eberly Telescope (with its 10 m mirror). These observations with the HPF spectrograph allowed researchers to measure a shift in the wavelength of certain atomic lines from the flare that are consistent with hot plasma raining back down on the star’s surface and are similar to observations of coronal rain from the sun.

A paper describing the observations, by a team led by Penn State scientists, includes a time-series analysis of the flare and could help astronomers put constraints on the energy and frequency of such events. The paper has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal and is available online.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Parker Solar Probe data bolsters theories in long-running solar riddle

Data collected by NASA’s Parker Solar Probe bolsters theories previously put by University of Michigan researchers about one of the sun’s greatest mysteries—why its outer atmosphere is hotter than its fiery surface.

Two years ago, U-M engineers predicted when the probe would pass a constantly moving, invisible barrier in the sun’s upper atmosphere called the Alfven point. They also anticipated a strange phenomenon beyond that point, which heats elements to different temperatures.

Findings announced by NASA, contained in a trio of research papers, support the accuracy of both predictions. The data behind those studies expands what we know about the sun’s corona, helping hone predictive modeling to protect Earth’s power grid from potentially damaging solar activity—when the sun hurls gobs of its plasma at our planet.

“While we don’t know how the heating happens, we were able to predict where it happens, and now Parker Solar Probe has entered this zone of heating,” said Justin Kasper, U-M professor of climate and space sciences, a principal investigator for the Parker mission and first author of one of the papers appearing in Physical Review Letters.

“It’s hard to overstate how important this is for our understanding of space weather, as now we know the spacecraft will be able to see how heating happens in the corona. Imagine trying to predict weather patterns and finally being able to measure how the air is heating before a storm.”

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

You can help scientists study the Sun

In this new citizen science project, participants will help identify bursts of plasma coming off the Sun, called solar jets, in thousands of images captured over the last 11 years by NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory.
Image credit: NASA, Zooniverse

If you ever wanted to be an astronomer, now is your chance. A new citizen science project, led by researchers at the University of Minnesota with support from NASA, allows volunteers to play an important role in learning more about the Sun by using their personal computers.

Participants will help identify bursts of plasma coming off the Sun, called solar jets, in thousands of images captured over the last 11 years by NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory.

The project, called Solar Jet Hunter, is the newest citizen science project under the Zooniverse platform originated at the University of Minnesota. Zooniverse is the world’s largest and most popular people-powered online research platform with more than two million volunteers from around the world. These volunteers act as armchair scientists and archivists helping academic research teams with their projects from the comfort of their own homes.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Sun Emits X-class Flare


The Sun emitted a significant solar flare peaking at 11:35 a.m. EDT on Oct. 28, 2021. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the Sun constantly, captured an image of the event.

Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.

To see how such space weather may affect Earth, please visit NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center http://spaceweather.gov/, the U.S. government’s official source for space weather forecasts, watches, warnings, and alerts. NASA works as the research arm of the nation’s space weather effort. NASA observes the Sun and our space environment constantly with a fleet of spacecraft that study everything from the Sun’s activity to the solar atmosphere, and to the particles and magnetic fields in the space surrounding Earth.

This flare is classified as an X1.0-class flare.

X-class denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength. An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, etc. Flares that are classified X10 or stronger are considered unusually intense.

Earlier in the week, from late-afternoon on October 25th through mid-morning on the 26th, a different active region on the Sun gave a show of small flares and eruptions of plasma.

Source/Credit: Video: NASA/GSFC/SDO

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