Space Weather at Climate & Space


Space Weather Opportunity During the Eclipse

There is an excellent article at fivethirtyeight.com summarizing how the upcoming solar eclipse is huge opportunity for space weather researchers.  During this time, the Moon will eclipse the Sun, and the solar corona will be observable.  The corona is the Sun’s atmosphere, which extends far away from the Sun’s surface.  It is where many interesting space weather phenomena originate- including the acceleration of the fast solar wind.  The short eclipse period will give researches a short but critical window over which to learn more about how the corona behaves.

The corona is not easy to observe.  Under normal conditions, it is completely washed out by the light of the sun- it’s like trying to see the distant light of a cell phone screen which is directly adjacent to a headlight.  In research, tools known as coronagraphs are used.  These are telescopes with fixed occulting disks to block out the light of the Sun, allowing us to observe the corona.  An example is the LASCO coronagraph aboard the SOHO satellite.  You’ll notice that the occulting disk is very large- much larger than the radius of the Sun.  This is to prevent visual artifacts that would otherwise ruin the image.  During the eclipse, the Moon covers up much less of the corona than an occulting disk but does not suffer from light artifacts because the moon is very distant compared to the observer.  Therefore, the eclipse gives us perfect conditions to see the solar atmosphere.  

While I won’t be making observations of the corona, I will be on a short trip to make sure that I don’t miss the eclipse.  I’ll share pictures and video here when I return!


Space Weather Warning – What to Look For

Once again, there’s a space weather storm warning issued by NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.  There are accompanying news pieces, too; especially in states and areas that are more likely to see aurora.  Then, of course, there are some rather colorful pieces, too, that do not help the reader understand what will happen.

Overall, it’s really hard to get a handle on how big a storm is going to be before it happens.  This is true for scientists and the layperson as well.  As we wait for this storm to hit, here’s some things to look for as the storm approaches and begins:

Continue reading “Space Weather Warning – What to Look For”


Space Weather Research: 40 Years of M-I Coupling

A key area of study in space weather is magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling, often abbreviated as M-I coupling.  This area deals with how the activities in the magnetosphere (the region of space where the Earth’s magnetic field dominates) and the ionosphere (the very top of the Earth’s atmosphere, where electrically neutral gasses are ionized by solar radiation).  These two regions physically couple in many ways.  Electric currents flow from the magnetosphere down into the ionosphere, causing gasses to circulate with the currents.  The ionosphere will resist and regulate the flow of electrical current and gas, changing the electric fields within the magnetosphere.  Plasma, or electrically charged gas, escapes from the ionosphere and populates the magnetosphere, changing mass content of near-Earth outer space.

Confusing?  It is, even to scientists.  M-I coupling is fundamental to understanding the characteristics and dynamics of space and space weather, but it is complicated, detailed, and heavily inter-dependent on many processes.  Scientists have been working on this topic for decades.  In 1974, a group of scientists sequestered themselves in Yosemite National Park with the goal of advancing their understanding of a hot new topic, M-I coupling:

Forty years later, in 2014, a second M-I coupling workshop was held at Yosemite National Park to see how our understanding has evolved over four decades.  It included many of the scientists who attended the first M-I workshop, and each block of talks was preceded by footage from the original workshop and remarks to add historical context to our work.  It was a unique experience of new and old; a singular conference where each presenter could see the giants on whose shoulders we stand. Continue reading “Space Weather Research: 40 Years of M-I Coupling”


Space Weather Workshop: Day 3

I’m back from the Space Weather Workshop and catching up after a week away.  I’ll keep posting my notes from the remainder of the workshop.

There is something about the day after the banquet night at any workshop.  Perhaps it’s because it represents the half-way point of the meeting.  Perhaps it’s because most people who had the responsibility of presenting are done and relieved.  Perhaps it’s just the after-effect of an evening of eating or drinking.  Whatever it is, the day after the banquet is always looser and more relaxed.  The energy is still there in the presentations and conversations, but everyone is more easy-going.  This sets the stage for another excellent day at the workshop. Continue reading “Space Weather Workshop: Day 3”


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