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  • richardmitnick 11:42 am on December 27, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Comparing the Accuracy of Geomagnetic Field Models, , , Space Weather   

    From Eos: “Comparing the Accuracy of Geomagnetic Field Models” 

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    Eos news bloc


    Delores J. Knipp

    Improved accuracy and optimization of models could benefit many applications.

    The figure shows bias of the magnitude error distributions for the Tsyganenko- 2004 (TS04) model by comparing the residual error for TS04 against a validation set. The color scale denotes the number of observation points at that location in comparison space. The X-axis shows the logarithm of the observed magnetic field magnitude. Positive values on the Y-axis imply model over-prediction of the magnetic field magnitude, while negative values imply model under-prediction of the magnetic field magnitude. Here, most of the comparisons (bright colors) show small model-observations differences at locations where the observed field values is ~100 nT, which is typical of geosynchronous orbit magnetic field values. Credit: Brito and Morley, 2017, Figure 5d.

    Improving models of the geomagnetic field is important to radiation belt studies, determining when satellites are on the same magnetic field line, and mapping from the ionosphere to the magnetotail or vice versa, to name just a few applications. Brito and Morley [2017] [Space Weather] present a method for comparing the accuracy of several versions of the Tsyganenko empirical magnetic field models and for optimizing the empirical magnetic field model using in situ magnetic field measurements. The study was carried out for intervals of varied geomagnetic activity selected by the Geospace Environment Modeling Challenge for the Quantitative Assessment of Radiation Belt Modeling Focus Group. The authors describe a method for improving the results of various Tsyganenko magnetic field models, especially with respect to outliers, using a new cost function, various metrics and Nelder-Mead optimization.

    Importantly, this model evaluation was based on points in the magnetosphere that were not used for fitting. Thus, the results provide an independent validation of the method. The model, known as TS04, produced the best results after optimization, generating a smaller error in 57.3% of the points in the tested data set when compared to the standard (unoptimized) inputs. The results of this study include a set of optimized parameters that can be used to evaluate the models studied in this paper. These optimized parameters are included as supplementary material so that the broader scientific community can use the optimized magnetic field models immediately, and without any additional code development, using any standard implementation of the magnetic field models tested in the study.

    See the full article here .

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    Eos is the leading source for trustworthy news and perspectives about the Earth and space sciences and their impact. Its namesake is Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, who represents the light shed on understanding our planet and its environment in space by the Earth and space sciences.

  • richardmitnick 9:01 am on October 30, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , Space Weather,   

    From UK Space Agency: “Initial £3 million awarded for UK leadership of new space science mission SMILE” 

    UK Space Agency

    UK Space Agency

    30 October 2017
    UK Space Agency and Jo Johnson MP

    UK teams will lead an international solar-terrestrial and space weather mission, taking on the development of a major science instrument thanks to funding from the UK Space Agency.

    Coronal mass ejections sometimes reach out in the direction of Earth. Credit: ESA

    The £3 million will support academics working on SMILE (the Solar wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer), a European Space Agency (ESA) science mission, being delivered jointly with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and due to launch in 2021. SMILE will address fundamental gaps in knowledge of the solar-terrestrial relationship by providing, for the first time ever, global imaging of the Earth’s magnetosphere and its dynamic response to solar wind – charged particles streaming from the Sun.

    ESA SMILE satellite

    The magnetosphere is a vast region around our planet that protects us from solar wind and cosmic particle radiation.

    Magnetosphere of Earth, original bitmap from NASA. SVG rendering by Aaron Kaase

    The Earth’s magnetosphere is the strongest of all the rocky planets in our solar system and its protective role is thought to have played a key role in the Earth’s habitability. SMILE will provide a step change in understanding its behaviour, and will serve a broad range of research communities in which the UK is world leading, including solar, fundamental physics, heliophysics, and planetary sciences.

    SMILE will also provide crucial improvements to the modelling of space weather, which is recognised in the Government’s National Risk Register as a key disruptive threat to UK national technological infrastructure.

    Science Minister, Jo Johnson, said:

    “Satellites, power grids and communications networks are integral to our modern lives and through this funding, we are ensuring UK academics continue to lead international research in solar-terrestrial science and space weather. This will help us gain a greater understanding of its causes and behaviour – helping us to better prepare and protect our vital infrastructure from its effects.

    “SMILE is a prime example of scientific innovation underpinning the broader economy with real-world applications, a key foundation of our Industrial Strategy.”

    The UK Space Agency’s £3 million investment package supports three UK academic groups for the next two years, and is planned to be extended to support the mission throughout its development. It will deliver the overall scientific leadership role with Prof Graziella Branduardi-Raymont, from the UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory, overseeing the European consortium, and the design and build of the mission’s most innovative science instrument, the SXI (Soft X-ray Imager), led by Dr Steven Sembay, from the University of Leicester.

    Prof Andrew Holland, of the Open University, will also manage the development of the SXI detectors from Teledyne e2v Ltd, a world renowned UK-based provider of cutting edge space technology, which has a separate ESA contract to provide the SXI detectors worth €1.5 million.

    Thales Alenia Space UK (TAS UK) is also bidding for a major role in the provision of the spacecraft’s Payload Module, and has been awarded one of three competitive studies funded by ESA to lead the design definition of this hardware.

    The UK Space Agency funded academic roles maximise UK science return by combining privileged access to SMILE science data with intimate instrument knowledge. SMILE builds on a very productive legacy of academic collaboration between the UK and China, and will act as a further high profile pillar of cooperation. The UK roles demonstrate our ongoing international leadership and engagement with world-class science and research.

    Prof Graziella Branduardi-Raymont, mission Co-Principal Investigator, said:

    “SMILE is a most innovative space mission dedicated to study the impact of the solar wind on the Earth’s magnetic environment. It will explore scientifically what drives space weather and return knowledge that will eventually lead to mitigating its effects.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:48 am on October 27, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Cloudy with a chance of protons, , , Space Weather   

    From ESA: “Cloudy with a chance of protons” 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    European Space Agency

    No writer credit


    ESA’s Gaia mission, in orbit since December 2013, is surveying more than a thousand million stars in our Galaxy, monitoring each target star about 70 times over a five-year period and precisely charting their positions, distances, movements and brightness.

    ESA/GAIA satellite

    Although Gaia is not equipped with a dedicated radiation monitor, it can provide information about the space weather – and the solar particles and radiation – that it encounters at its unique orbital position, 1.5 million km from Earth towards the Sun.

    In September, Gaia unexpectedly detected a large quantity of protons – subatomic particles – emitted by a solar flare.

    In this image, captured by Gaia’s Wave Front Sensor – a sort of ‘camera within a camera’ in its main star-sensing instrument – the streaks of ‘snow’ are trails of individual protons. During normal space weather conditions, the image would only include one or two proton trails. The long trail running horizontally across the image indicates a particularly energetic proton.

    This proton storm was also reported by NASA’s GOES weather satellite, which is equipped with a particle-sensing instrument.


    The solar flare that gave rise to these protons took place on 10 September 2017, and the peak flow of protons streaming past Gaia occurred at about midnight on 11 September.

    “Gaia is designed to withstand these space weather storms and it was able to continue as normal throughout the period of increased radiation,” says spacecraft operations engineer Ed Serpell.

    “During the days of the increased radiation, the amount of ground contact with the ESA deep-space network was increased to provide more realtime information about the spacecraft performance. This additional visibility confirmed how well Gaia was performing and no intervention was necessary.”

    The storm had some minor, temporary effect on Gaia’s attitude and orbit control system. The excess protons also caused the main science instrument to generate much more data than usual, which had to be offloaded from the onboard memory.

    More information


    Space Situational Awareness

    Space Weather Service Network

    See the full article here .

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    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 11:55 am on August 23, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , EISCAT [European Incoherent Scatter Scientific Association], Space Weather,   

    From STFC: “UK supporting Arctic project to build the most advanced space weather radar in the world” 


    23 August 2017
    STFC Media Manager
    Jake Gilmore
    +44 (0)7970 99 4586

    An artist’s impression of what EISCAT_3D’s central radar site will look like. (Credit: NIPR)

    The most advanced space weather radar in the world is to be built in the Arctic by an international partnership including the UK, thanks to new investment from NERC [Science of the Environment], with scientific collaboration from STFC.

    The EISCAT [European Incoherent Scatter Scientific Association]_3D radar will provide UK scientists with a cutting-edge tool to probe the upper atmosphere and near-Earth space, helping them understand the effects of space weather storms on technology, society and the environment.

    The UK government has placed space weather on the National Risk Register, in recognition of the potential damage it can do to satellites, communications and power grids. Solar storms drive space weather, but one of the biggest challenges in space weather science is improving our understanding of how the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere responds to this. EISCAT_3D will give scientists the means to understand these connections.

    Dr. Ian McCrea, from STFC RAL Space and the NERC Centre for Atmospheric Science, said:

    “This announcement represents the culmination of 15 years effort to secure UK involvement in a facility which will be the most sophisticated of its kind in the world. With advanced capabilities based on state-of-the-art radar technology, this new radar will significantly expand the opportunities for our scientists to study the outermost regions of the Earth’s atmosphere and their interaction with the space environment.”

    EISCAT_3D will provide us with a new way of spatially imaging the structure and dynamics of this important region, enabling us to contribute more effectively to growing international efforts to observe and forecast the effects of space weather, monitor the risks posed by space debris and probe the complex structure of the aurora.”

    A key capability of the radar will be to measure an entire 3D volume of the upper atmosphere in unprecedented detail. This is necessary to understand how energetic particles and electrical currents from space affect both the upper and the lower atmosphere. Scientists will be able to take measurements across scales from hundreds of metres to hundreds of kilometres, providing exceptional detail and vast quantities of data, and opening the scope of research that can be carried out.

    STFC’s RAL Space Director, Dr Chris Mutlow said:

    “I’m delighted that we’re able to bring our heritage in studying space weather to this fantastic new radar with our international partners. The level of detail it will provide represents a significant leap in our ability to understand the effects of space weather on our atmosphere and monitor space debris. This is critical to our national infrastructure as well as scientific advancement.”

    The northern hemisphere already hosts several EISCAT radars, situated in the so-called auroral oval – where you can see the northern lights or aurora borealis.

    EISCAT Svalbard, Norway Radar

    EISCAT radar dish in Kiruna, Sweden

    EISCAT Ramfjordmoen facility (near Tromsø, Norway) in winter

    EISCAT Sodankylä radar in Finland

    They take measurements in a region of the Earth’s upper atmosphere called the ionosphere – from about 70 to 1000 km altitude. They sample the electron concentration and temperature, and the ion temperature and velocity at a range of altitudes along the radar beam direction. But the current EISCAT radars provide a single pencil beam, so researchers can only look at one small portion of the sky at a given time.

    Dr Andrew Kavanagh, UK EISCAT Science Support, based at the British Antarctic Survey, said:

    “The new EISCAT_3D radar will measure the ionosphere in lots of different directions simultaneously. It will be like having hundreds of radar dishes all operating together. This means we can easily see changes in the ionosphere and not miss important data: when our measurements change we will be able to say whether something had just appeared or faded or if something was moving through the beams. This is really important as it gives us information about how space weather effects evolve.”

    Costing a total of £63m, the facility will be distributed across three sites in northern Scandinavia – in Skibotn, Norway, near Kiruna in Sweden, and near Kaaresuvanto in Finland. The project will start in September 2017 with site preparations beginning in summer 2018. The radar is expected to be operational in 2021.

    The site in Skibotn, Norway will have a transmitter and receiver array, while the two other sites will have receiver arrays. These will generate beams that will ‘look into’ the transmitted beam and give researchers many intersection heights.

    EISCAT Director, Dr Craig Heinselman, said:

    “Building on over three and a half decades of scientific observations with the legacy EISCAT radars, this new multi-site phased-array radar will allow our international user community to investigate important questions about the physics of the near-Earth space environment. The radar will make measurements at least ten times faster and with ten times finer resolution than current systems.”

    See the full article here .

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    STFC Hartree Centre

    Helping build a globally competitive, knowledge-based UK economy

    We are a world-leading multi-disciplinary science organisation, and our goal is to deliver economic, societal, scientific and international benefits to the UK and its people – and more broadly to the world. Our strength comes from our distinct but interrelated functions:

    Universities: we support university-based research, innovation and skills development in astronomy, particle physics, nuclear physics, and space science
    Scientific Facilities: we provide access to world-leading, large-scale facilities across a range of physical and life sciences, enabling research, innovation and skills training in these areas
    National Campuses: we work with partners to build National Science and Innovation Campuses based around our National Laboratories to promote academic and industrial collaboration and translation of our research to market through direct interaction with industry
    Inspiring and Involving: we help ensure a future pipeline of skilled and enthusiastic young people by using the excitement of our sciences to encourage wider take-up of STEM subjects in school and future life (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)

    We support an academic community of around 1,700 in particle physics, nuclear physics, and astronomy including space science, who work at more than 50 universities and research institutes in the UK, Europe, Japan and the United States, including a rolling cohort of more than 900 PhD students.

    STFC-funded universities produce physics postgraduates with outstanding high-end scientific, analytic and technical skills who on graduation enjoy almost full employment. Roughly half of our PhD students continue in research, sustaining national capability and creating the bedrock of the UK’s scientific excellence. The remainder – much valued for their numerical, problem solving and project management skills – choose equally important industrial, commercial or government careers.

    Our large-scale scientific facilities in the UK and Europe are used by more than 3,500 users each year, carrying out more than 2,000 experiments and generating around 900 publications. The facilities provide a range of research techniques using neutrons, muons, lasers and x-rays, and high performance computing and complex analysis of large data sets.

    They are used by scientists across a huge variety of science disciplines ranging from the physical and heritage sciences to medicine, biosciences, the environment, energy, and more. These facilities provide a massive productivity boost for UK science, as well as unique capabilities for UK industry.

    Our two Campuses are based around our Rutherford Appleton Laboratory at Harwell in Oxfordshire, and our Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire – each of which offers a different cluster of technological expertise that underpins and ties together diverse research fields.

    The combination of access to world-class research facilities and scientists, office and laboratory space, business support, and an environment which encourages innovation has proven a compelling combination, attracting start-ups, SMEs and large blue chips such as IBM and Unilever.

    We think our science is awesome – and we know students, teachers and parents think so too. That’s why we run an extensive Public Engagement and science communication programme, ranging from loans to schools of Moon Rocks, funding support for academics to inspire more young people, embedding public engagement in our funded grant programme, and running a series of lectures, travelling exhibitions and visits to our sites across the year.

    Ninety per cent of physics undergraduates say that they were attracted to the course by our sciences, and applications for physics courses are up – despite an overall decline in university enrolment.

  • richardmitnick 1:12 pm on May 27, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 1 millionº and breezy: Your solar forecast, , , , , Space Weather,   

    From Science Node: “1 millionº and breezy: Your solar forecast” 

    Science Node bloc
    Science Node

    24 May, 2017
    Alisa Alering

    Space is a big place, so modeling activities out there calls for supercomputers that match. PRACE provided scientists the resources to run the Vlasiator code and simulate the solar wind around the earth.

    Courtesy Minna Palmroth; Finnish Meteorological Institute.

    Outer space is a tough place to be a lonely blue planet.

    With only a thin atmosphere standing between a punishing solar wind and the 1.5 million species living on its surface, any indication of the solar mood is appreciated.

    The sun emits a continuous flow of plasma traveling at speeds up to 900 km/s and temperatures as high as 1 millionº Celsius. The earth’s magnetosphere blocks this wind and allows it to flow harmlessly around the planet like water around a stone in the middle of a stream.

    Magnetosphere of Earth, original bitmap from NASA. SVG rendering by Aaron Kaase

    But under the force of the solar bombardment, the earth’s magnetic field responds dramatically, changing size and shape. The highly dynamic conditions this creates in near-Earth space is known as space weather.

    Vlasiator, a new simulation developed by Minna Palmroth, professor in computational space physics at the University of Helsinki, models the entire magnetosphere. It helps scientists to better understand interesting and hard-to-predict phenomena that occur in near-Earth space weather.

    Unlike previous models that could only simulate a small segment of the magnetosphere, Vlasiator allows scientists to study causal relationships between plasma phenomena for the first time and to consider smaller scale phenomena in a larger context.

    “With Vlasiator, we are simulating near-Earth space with better accuracy than has even been possible before,” says Palmroth.

    Navigating near-Earth

    Over 1,000 satellites and other near-Earth spacecraft are currently in operation around the earth, including the International Space Station and the Hubble Telescope.

    Nearly all communications on Earth — including television and radio, telephone, internet, and military — rely on links to these spacecraft.

    Still other satellites support navigation and global positioning and meteorological observation.

    New spacecraft are launched every day, and the future promises even greater dependence on their signals. But we are launching these craft into a sea of plasma that we barely understand.

    “Consider a shipping company that would send its vessel into an ocean without knowing what the environment was,” says Palmroth. “That wouldn’t be very smart.”

    Space weather has an enormous impact on spacecraft, capable of deteriorating signals to the navigation map on your phone and disrupting aviation. Solar storms even have the potential to overwhelm transformers and black out the power grid.

    Through better comprehension and prediction of space weather, Vlasiator’s comprehensive model will help scientists protect vital communications and other satellite functions.

    Three-level parallelization

    The Vlasiator’s simulations are so detailed that it can model the most important physical phenomena in the near-Earth space at the ion-kinetic scale. This amounts to a volume of 1 million km3 — a massive computational challenge that has not previously been possible.

    After being awarded several highly competitive grants from the European Research Council, Palmroth secured computation time on HPC resources managed by the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE).

    Hazel Hen

    She began with the Hornet supercomputer and then its successor Hazel Hen, both at the High-Performance Computing Center Stuttgart. Most recently she has been using the Marconi supercomputer at CINECA in Italy.

    Marconi supercomputer at CINECA in Italy

    Palmroth’s success is due to three-level parallelization of the simulation code. Her team uses domain decomposition to split the near-Earth space into grid cells within each area they wish to simulate.

    They use load-balancing to divide the simulations and then parallelize using OpenMP. Finally, they vectorize the code to parallelize through the supercomputer’s cores.

    Even so, simulation datasets range from 1 to 100 terabytes, depending on how often they save the simulations, and require anywhere between 500 – 100,000 cores, possibly beyond, on Hazel Hen.

    “We are continuously making algorithmic improvements in the code, making new optimizations, and utilizing the latest advances in HPC to improve the efficiency of the calculations all the time,” says Palmroth.

    Taking off into the future

    In addition to advancing our knowledge of space weather, Vlasiator also helps scientists to better understand plasma physics. Until now, most fundamental plasma physical phenomena have been discovered from space because it’s the best available laboratory.

    But the universe is comprised of 99.9 percent plasma, the fourth state of matter. In order to understand the universe, you need to understand plasma physics. For scientists undertaking any kind of matter research, Vlasiator’s capacity to simulate the near-Earth space is significant.

    “As a scientist, I’m curious about what happens in the world,” says Palmroth. “I can’t really draw a line beyond which I don’t want to know what happens.”

    Significantly, Vlasiator has recently helped to explain some features of ultra-low frequency waves in the earth’s foreshock that have perplexed scientists for decades.

    A collaboration with NASA in the US helped validate those results with the THEMIS spacecraft, a constellation of five identical probes designed to gather information about large-scale space physics.

    Exchanging information with her colleagues at NASA allows Palmroth to get input from THEMIS’s direct observation of space phenomena and to exchange modeling results with the observational community.

    “The work we are doing now is important for the next generation,” says Palmroth. “We’re learning all the time. If future generations build upon our advances, their understanding of the universe will be on much more certain ground.”

    See the full article here .

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    Science Node is an international weekly online publication that covers distributed computing and the research it enables.

    “We report on all aspects of distributed computing technology, such as grids and clouds. We also regularly feature articles on distributed computing-enabled research in a large variety of disciplines, including physics, biology, sociology, earth sciences, archaeology, medicine, disaster management, crime, and art. (Note that we do not cover stories that are purely about commercial technology.)

    In its current incarnation, Science Node is also an online destination where you can host a profile and blog, and find and disseminate announcements and information about events, deadlines, and jobs. In the near future it will also be a place where you can network with colleagues.

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  • richardmitnick 12:17 pm on March 24, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Can our grid withstand a solar storm?, Geomagnetic storms, HuffPost, , Space Weather   

    From LANL via HuffPost: “Can our grid withstand a solar storm?” 

    LANL bloc

    Los Alamos National Laboratory


    Jesse Woodroffe
    Michael Rivera

    NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data provided courtesy of Chris Elvidge (NOAA National Geophysical Data Center). Suomi NPP is the result of a partnership between NASA, NOAA, and the Department of Defense.
    A composite image of North and South America at night assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012.

    When the last really big solar storm hit Earth in 1921, the Sun ejected a burst of plasma and magnetic structures like Zeus hurling a thunderbolt from Mount Olympus. Earth’s magnetic field funneled a wave of electrically charged particles toward the ground, where they induced a current along telegraph lines and railroad tracks that set fire to telegraph offices and burned down train stations. As ghostly curtains of Northern Lights danced far south over the eastern United States, the fledgling electric grid flickered and went dark.

    Almost a century later, today’s grid is bigger, more interconnected, and even more susceptible to a solar storm disaster. No one knows exactly how susceptible, but one recent peer-reviewed study found that an epic solar, or geomagnetic, storm could cost the United States more than $40 billion in damages and lost productivity.

    Most geomagnetic storms are harmless. They regularly lash across Earth after a coronal mass ejection sprays electrons, protons, and other charged particles from the Sun. If they’re aimed just right, a few days later Earth’s magnetic field snares them. They accelerate and light up in another brilliant—and harmless—display of Northern Lights (or Southern Lights below the equator).

    But the less frequent, more severe kind of space weather—call it a 100-year storm—can fry technology and cripple the energy infrastructure. In 1921, it was lights-out across town. Today, heavy dependence on electric-powered technology makes society more vulnerable. In a scant few minutes, a major storm could blow out key components in the electric grid across wide swathes of the United States. Cascading failures could wreak havoc on the water supply, life-saving medical activities, communications, the internet, air travel, and any other grid-dependent sector.

    Mindful of the danger, the nation has developed a plan to support electric utilities in defending against these storms. As part of that plan, we’re researching the credible scenarios that could lead to large impacts. Los Alamos National Laboratory has been studying space weather for more than 50 years as part of our national security mission to monitor nuclear testing around the globe, and part of that work includes studying how the radiation-saturated environment of near space can affect technology and people.

    Now Los Alamos is mining decades’ worth of data from a global network of ground-based geomagnetic sensors, running statistical analyses, and generating computer simulations that model the magnitude, electrical and magnetic characteristics, and location of geomagnetic storms. Just like thunderstorms, solar storms vary, from the orientation of their traveling magnetic field to the kind of particles hurtling our way. The data shows that weaker storms tend to flare up closer to the planet’s poles. In the Northern Hemisphere, stronger storms dip farther south, so they’re more likely to threaten population centers, such as New York City or Chicago. But our models predict that the biggest solar storms don’t necessarily cause the greatest damage—location can trump storm intensity.

    Knowing what might happen, and where, is crucial for government and industry to assess the threats and weigh the risks. Then they can establish the procedures, practices, and regulations needed to withstand the worst solar storms. To support that work, Los Alamos will incorporate its space weather research into new software tools for suggesting industry investments in greater grid resilience and informing government requirements for utilities, such as where to site stations and what kind of transformers to install.

    Space weather scientists have a saying: When you’ve seen one solar storm, you’ve seen one solar storm. The key to grid resilience is knowing something about all possible storms. Armed with scientific analysis from Los Alamos about how frequently a major geomagnetic storm might strike, which regions of the country are most vulnerable, and how bad it might be, electric utility companies and government regulators can take the necessary steps to spare us all from the nightmare of days, weeks, or even months without power. That way, we can all keep the lights on the next time the Sun decides to toss an extra few billion trillion trillion charged particles our way.

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    Los Alamos National Laboratory’s mission is to solve national security challenges through scientific excellence.

    LANL campus
    Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security, is operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC, a team composed of Bechtel National, the University of California, The Babcock & Wilcox Company, and URS for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

    Los Alamos enhances national security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health, and global security concerns.

    Operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC for the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s NNSA

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  • richardmitnick 3:57 pm on August 15, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Space Weather   

    From Goddard: “NASA’s Van Allen Probes Catch Rare Glimpse of Supercharged Radiation Belt” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Aug. 15, 2016
    Lina Tran
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    Our planet is nestled in the center of two immense, concentric doughnuts of powerful radiation: the Van Allen radiation belts, which harbor swarms of charged particles that are trapped by Earth’s magnetic field. On March 17, 2015, an interplanetary shock – a shockwave created by the driving force of a coronal mass ejection, or CME, from the sun – struck Earth’s magnetic field, called the magnetosphere, triggering the greatest geomagnetic storm of the preceding decade.

    Magnetosphere of Earth, original bitmap from NASA. SVG rendering by Aaron Kaase
    Magnetosphere of Earth, original bitmap from NASA. SVG rendering by Aaron Kaase

    And NASA’s Van Allen Probes were there to watch the effects on the radiation belts.

    Artist concept of accelerated electrons circulating in Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center; Tom Bridgman, animator

    NASA Van Allen Probes

    On March 17, 2015, an interplanetary shock – a shockwave created by the driving force of a coronal mass ejection, or CME, from the sun – struck the outermost radiation belt, triggering the greatest geomagnetic storm of the preceding decade. NASA’s Van Allen Probes were there to watch it. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center; Genna Duberstein, producer

    One of the most common forms of space weather, a geomagnetic storm describes any event in which the magnetosphere is suddenly, temporarily disturbed. Such an event can also lead to change in the radiation belts surrounding Earth, but researchers have seldom been able to observe what happens. But on the day of the March 2015 geomagnetic storm, one of the Van Allen Probes was orbiting right through the belts, providing unprecedentedly high-resolution data from a rarely witnessed phenomenon. A paper on these observations was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research on Aug. 15, 2016.

    Researchers want to study the complex space environment around Earth because the radiation and energy there can impact our satellites in a wide variety of ways – from interrupting onboard electronics to increasing frictional drag to disrupting communications and navigation signals.

    “We study radiation belts because they pose a hazard to spacecraft and astronauts,” said David Sibeck, the Van Allen Probes mission scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who was not involved with the paper. “If you knew how bad the radiation could get, you would build a better spacecraft to accommodate that.”

    Studying the radiation belts is one part of our efforts to monitor, study and understand space weather. NASA launched the twin Van Allen Probes in 2012 to understand the fundamental physical processes that create this harsh environment so that scientists can develop better models of the radiation belts. These spacecraft were specifically designed to withstand the constant bombardment of radiation in this area and to continue to collect data even under the most intense conditions. A set of observations on how the radiation belts respond to a significant space weather storm, from this harsh space environment, is a goldmine.

    The recent research describes what happened: The March 2015 storm was initiated by an interplanetary shock hurtling toward Earth – a giant shockwave in space set off by a CME, much like a tsunami is triggered by an earthquake.

    Swelling and shrinking in response to such events and solar radiation, the Van Allen belts are highly dynamic structures within our planet’s magnetosphere. Sometimes, changing conditions in near-Earth space can energize electrons in these ever-changing regions. Scientists don’t yet know whether energization events driven by interplanetary shocks are common. Regardless, the effects of interplanetary shocks are highly localized events – meaning if a spacecraft is not precisely in the right place when a shock hits, it won’t register the event at all. In this case, only one of the Van Allen Probes was in the proper position, deep within the magnetosphere – but it was able to send back key information.

    The spacecraft measured a sudden pulse of electrons energized to extreme speeds – nearly as fast as the speed of light – as the shock slammed the outer radiation belt. This population of electrons was short-lived, and their energy dissipated within minutes. But five days later, long after other processes from the storm had died down, the Van Allen Probes detected an increased number of even higher energy electrons. Such an increase so much later is a testament to the unique energization processes following the storm.

    “The shock injected – meaning it pushed – electrons from outer regions of the magnetosphere deep inside the belt, and in that process, the electrons gained energy,” said Shri Kanekal, the deputy mission scientist for the Van Allen Probes at Goddard and the leading author of a paper on these results.

    Researchers can now incorporate this example into what they already know about how electrons behave in the belts, in order to try to understand what happened in this case – and better map out the space weather processes there. There are multiple ways electrons in the radiation belts can be energized or accelerated: radially, locally or by way of a shock. In radial acceleration, electrons are carried by low-frequency waves towards Earth. Local acceleration describes the process of electrons gaining energy from relatively higher frequency waves as the electrons orbit Earth. And finally, during shock acceleration, a strong interplanetary shock compresses the magnetosphere suddenly, creating large electric fields that rapidly energize electrons.

    Scientists study the different processes to understand what role each process plays in energizing particles in the magnetosphere. Perhaps these mechanisms occur in combination, or maybe just one at a time. Answering this question remains a major goal in the study of radiation belts – a difficult task considering the serendipitous nature of the data collection, particularly in regard to shock acceleration.

    Additionally, the degree of electron energization depends on the process that energizes them. One can liken the process of shock acceleration, as observed by the Van Allen Probe, to pushing a swing.

    “Think of ‘pushing’ as the phenomenon that’s increasing the energy,” Kanekal said. “The more you push a swing, the higher it goes.” And the faster electrons will move after a shock.

    In this case, those extra pushes likely led to the second peak in high-energy electrons. While electromagnetic waves from the shock lingered in the magnetosphere, they continued to raise the electrons’ energy. The stronger the storm, the longer such waves persist. Following the March 2015 storm, resulting electromagnetic waves lasted several days. The result: a peak in electron energy measured by the Van Allen Probe five days later.

    This March 2015 geomagnetic storm was one of the strongest yet of the decade, but it pales in comparison to some earlier storms. A storm during March 1991 was so strong that it produced long-lived, energized electrons that remained within the radiation belts for multiple years. With luck, the Van Allen Probes may be in the right position in their orbit to observe the radiation belt response to more geomagnetic storms in the future. As scientists gather data from different events, they can compare and contrast them, ultimately helping to create robust models of the little-understood processes occurring in these giant belts.

    The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, built and operates the Van Allen Probes for NASA’s Heliophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate. The Van Allen Probes are the second mission in NASA’s Living With a Star program, an initiative managed by Goddard and focused on aspects of the sun-Earth system that directly affect human lives and society.

    Related Links

    Van Allen Probes Mission Overview
    NASA’s Van Allen Probes Spot an Impenetrable Barrier in Space
    NASA’s Van Allen Probes Revolutionize View of Radiation Belts

    See the full article here.

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    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.

    NASA Goddard Campus
    NASA/Goddard Campus

  • richardmitnick 11:21 am on August 4, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Space Weather   

    From Eos: “Predicting Space Weather, Protecting Satellites” 

    Eos news bloc


    Leah Crane

    Blue and red dots denote the geographic locations of selected satellites above Earth in a geosynchronous orbit. Charged particles in Earth’s magnetosphere can affect the operations of these spacecraft, especially when they arrive without warning. Credit: Denton et al. [2016]

    Magnetosphere of Earth, original bitmap from NASA. SVG rendering by Aaron Kaase
    Magnetosphere of Earth, original bitmap from NASA. SVG rendering by Aaron Kaase

    The Earth is surrounded by a collection of communications, scientific, and military satellites, many in geosynchronous orbit (GEO), meaning they remain at the same geographic spot above Earth as they orbit and the planet rotates. As they whizz around the planet’s satellite superhighway, they are bombarded with charged particles. Because the onslaught of electrons and ions in orbit can damage or even disable satellites over time, understanding the conditions at GEO can give spacecraft designers and operators information that could be used to mitigate negative effects on satellites.

    A new study by Denton et al. presents a new model capable of predicting electron and ion fluxes at GEO with an hour of lead time, allowing satellite operators to take advanced action to protect satellites. The model is based on electron and ion flux observations made between 1989 and 2007 by Magnetospheric Plasma Analyzer (MPA) instruments from the Los Alamos National Laboratory aboard several geostationary spacecraft. Those instruments provide a set of three-dimensional data cubes, including electron energy, local time, and properties of the solar wind (the product of its speed and magnetic field). Using those three values, the model provided by the researchers returns a prediction of the electron and ion flux at GEO.

    Previous models used the planetary Kp index, which measures disturbances in Earth’s magnetic field in real time, rather than measurements of the solar wind. The Kp index has drawbacks, however: It is updated every 3 hours, for example, but electron and ion fluxes at GEO often fluctuate much more rapidly. Although the model presented here yielded results equivalent to models that use the Kp index, future versions will include even more data, such as past conditions in the magnetosphere and the time it takes for the solar wind to reach locations in GEO. For scientists who use fluxes at GEO to define boundary conditions for models of the inner magnetosphere, future capabilities for more precise measurements could improve modeling capabilities.

    Also, measurements of the Kp index reflect the current conditions, making it impossible for satellite operators to take action to protect their instrumentation ahead of time. The solar wind, on the other hand, can be measured by satellites an hour “upstream” of the Earth. In providing robust electron flux and ion flux results that are comparable in accuracy to previous models but with an hour of lead time, the authors take a step toward both better models of Earth’s magnetosphere and better protection for satellites. The model is freely available for download.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Stem Education Coalition

    Eos is the leading source for trustworthy news and perspectives about the Earth and space sciences and their impact. Its namesake is Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, who represents the light shed on understanding our planet and its environment in space by the Earth and space sciences.

  • richardmitnick 11:03 am on August 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , CASSIOPE, CSA, , Space Weather   

    From Eos: “Tracking Ions at the Edge of the Atmosphere” 

    Eos news bloc


    2 August 2016
    Leah Crane

    The research satellite CASSIOPE on a test platform at the Canadian Space Agency’s David Florida Laboratory. CASSIOPE hosts the GPS Attitude, Positioning, and Profiling instrument designed by GGE researchers. The four white antennas on the left-facing side of the spacecraft will be used to determine the position, velocity, and attitude of the spacecraft while the antenna on the upper side will be used to profile the ionosphere’s electron density. (Photograph courtesy of MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd.)

    The border between Earth and space is a turbulent one: Ions from the solar wind and other forms of space weather batter Earth’s atmosphere, which is constantly churning and slowly leaking away into space. Solar storms in particular whip the upper atmosphere into a frenzy, with potentially devastating effects on space-based technologies like GPS navigation and radio communication.

    To better understand how space weather and solar storms interact with Earth’s upper atmosphere, the Canadian Space Agency launched the Cascade, Smallsat and Ionospheric Polar Explorer (CASSIOPE) satellite in 2013. The Enhanced Polar Outflow Probe (e-POP), one of two payloads aboard CASSIOPE, holds a suite of eight scientific instruments, all studying different aspects of near-Earth space. Here Yau and Howarth present the first scientific results from one of those instruments, the imaging and rapid-scanning ion mass spectrometer (IRM).

    The IRM takes samples of ions from Earth’s ionosphere and magnetosphere and identifies the energy-to-charge ratio (E/q) and mass-to-charge ratio (M/q) of each ion, as well as the angle from which it approached the satellite. As ions approach the IRM, a time-of-flight gate opens and closes rapidly to control the flow of ions entering the apparatus, selecting for specific M/q values. Then, a hemispherical electrostatic analyzer uses an electric field to disperse the ions onto an array of 64 detector pixels according to their E/q and angle of approach.

    Using data collected by the IRM, the researchers were able to determine what sorts of ions were observed and the energies of those ions. There was some uncertainty because of overlaps in the possible values for various types of ions: singly charged cations of nitrogen (N+) and oxygen (O+), for example, have very similar atomic masses, which makes them difficult to separate when both land on the same detector pixel.

    Despite that uncertainty, the authors found high densities of heavy “minor” doubly charged oxygen cations (O2+), N+, and molecular ions at the upper edge of Earth’s ionosphere. These heavy ions, particularly N+, play an important role in atmospheric escape over long time scales. Therefore, not only will e-POP’s study of space weather provide insight into the types of ions energized by solar storms, but it could also help researchers understand the long-term evolution of the Earth’s atmosphere. (Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, doi:10.1002/2016JA022699, 2016)

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Eos is the leading source for trustworthy news and perspectives about the Earth and space sciences and their impact. Its namesake is Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, who represents the light shed on understanding our planet and its environment in space by the Earth and space sciences.

  • richardmitnick 4:06 pm on February 10, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Owens Valley Long Wavelength Array, , Space Weather   

    From Caltech: “Chasing Extrasolar Space Weather” 

    Caltech Logo

    Lori Dajose

    Earth’s magnetic field acts like a giant shield, protecting the planet from bursts of harmful charged solar particles that could strip away the atmosphere.

    Magnetosphere of Earth
    Earth’s magnetosphere

    Gregg Hallinan, an assistant professor of astronomy, aims to detect this kind of space weather on other stars to determine whether planets around these stars are also protected by their own magnetic fields and how that impacts planetary habitability.

    On Wednesday, February 10, at 8 p.m. in Beckman Auditorium, Hallinan will discuss his group’s efforts to detect intense radio emissions from stars and their effects on any nearby planets. Admission is free.

    What do you do?
    I am an astronomer. My primary focus is the study of the magnetic fields of stars, planets, and brown dwarfs—which are kind of an intermediate object between a planet and a star.

    Brown dwarf
    Brown dwarf

    Stars and their planets have intertwined relationships. Our sun, for example, produces coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, which are bubbles of hot plasma explosively ejected from the sun out into the solar system.

    Solar eruption 2012 by NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory SDO

    Radiation and particles from these solar events bombard the earth and interact with the atmosphere, dominating the local “space weather” in the environment of Earth. Happily, our planet’s magnetic field shields and redirects CMEs toward the polar regions. This causes auroras—the colorful light in the sky commonly known as the Northern or Southern Lights.

    Auroras from around the world
    Auroras from around the world

    Our new telescope, the Owens Valley Long Wavelength Array, images the entire sky instantaneously and allows us to monitor extrasolar space weather on thousands of nearby stellar systems.

    Caltech Owens Valley Long Wavelength Array
    Caltech Owens Valley Long Wavelength Array

    When a star produces a CME, it also emits a bright burst of radio waves with a specific signature. If a planet has a magnetic field and it is hit by one of these CMEs, it will also become brighter in radio waves. Those radio signatures are very specific and allow you to measure very precisely the strength of the planet’s magnetic field. I am interested in detecting radio waves from exoplanets—planets outside of our solar system—in order to learn more about what governs whether or not a planet has a magnetic field.

    Why is this important?

    The presence of a magnetic field on a planet can tell us a lot. Like on our own planet, magnetic fields are an important line of defense against the solar wind, particularly explosive CMEs, which can strip a planet of its atmosphere. Mars is a good example of this. Because it didn’t have a magnetic field shielding it from the sun’s solar wind, it was stripped of its atmosphere long ago. So, determining whether a planet has a magnetic field is important in order to determine which planets could possibly have atmospheres and thus could possibly host life.

    How did you get into this line of work?

    From a young age, I was obsessed with astronomy—it’s all I cared for. My parents got me a telescope when I was 7 or 8, and from then on, that was it.

    As a grad student, I was looking at magnetic fields of cool—meaning low-temperature—objects. When I was looking at brown dwarfs, I found that they behave like planets in that they also have auroras. I had the idea that auroras could be the avenue to examine the magnetic fields of other planets. So brown dwarfs were my gateway into exoplanets.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    The California Institute of Technology (commonly referred to as Caltech) is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States. Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphases on science and engineering. Its 124-acre (50 ha) primary campus is located approximately 11 mi (18 km) northeast of downtown Los Angeles. “The mission of the California Institute of Technology is to expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education. We investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become creative members of society.”
    Caltech buildings

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