Space Weather at Climate & Space


Space Weather Workshop: Day 2

I’m at the Space Weather Workshop, an annual meeting sponsored by the NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. When it comes to interfacing space weather science, policy, applications and forecasting, this is THE meeting to be at. I’ll be posting updates summarizing each day.

Chigo Ngwira of NASA & Catholic University of America discusses extreme space weather impacts at Earth.

Day 2 picked up where Day 1 left off: with government agencies discussing how they can assist and lead Research-To-Operations (R2O) work within the field of space weather.  NASA had a strong presence in the morning session.  The NASA Living With a Star (LWS) program has a long history of funding space weather science, but are now changing their requirements to emphasize R2O.  Funded computer modeling projects will be increasingly expected to undergo data-model testing to help NASA and the community understand how code improvements are advancing our ability to forecast.  There was also a presentation from NASA’s Community Coordinated Modeling Center (CCMC).  This is an organization that collects computer models from the community and makes them available to everyone via web interfaces.  CCMC is working to be a validation hub that helps the LWS program evaluate different models.  They have been working hard to create a set of metrics (numbers that score model forecasts) to achieve this task effectively.  The strong NASA presence was rounded out by talks from NSF, SWPC, and the Air Force. Continue reading “Space Weather Workshop: Day 2”


Space Weather Workshop: Day 1

I’m at the Space Weather Workshop, an annual meeting sponsored by the NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. When it comes to interfacing space weather science, policy, applications and forecasting, this is THE meeting to be at. I’ll be posting updates summarizing each day.

 

The stage setup for the Space Weather Workshop before the conference begins.  The “globe” in the center is a circular screen that shows various animations throughout the week.

This year, the conference was kicked off by a talk from Bill Murtagh, a SWPC employee and long-time advocate for Space Weather.  This talk focused on the challenges that remain for space weather forecasting, and wow do we have a long way to go!  He made a specific point concerning the “Halloween Storms” of 2003: the sun had no sun spots leading up to the event, leading us to believe that calm conditions were in our future.  A few days before the event, however, a very large and active sunspot snuck around the edge and produced the massive storm.  We remain very, very limited in our forecasting capabilities.

Continue reading “Space Weather Workshop: Day 1”


It’s Quiet… Too Quiet.

Do you know what makes running a space weather blog easier? Space weather. Like, space weather actually happening.

Guess what’s not happening?  Space weather.  

That is, of course, and exaggeration.  Just like weather on the Earth, space weather is always happening.  Just like on Earth, however, when things are calm and boring, you are less likely to get cool news stories.  

This has been exactly the case with space weather.  The only events that we have observed in the past month or so are from coronal holes.  These are regions on the sun where the solar wind is faster than other places.  The fast solar wind catches up to the slow solar wind on the way to the Earth and compresses up against it.  This is similar to when you’re driving to work, and the slow guy in the fast lane causes ten cars to impatiently bunch up together.  When this bunched-up solar wind arrives at Earth, it creates a small space weather storm.  These types of events are boring and very easy to predict: given a slowly changing Sun, a single coronal hole (the source of fast solar wind) will create a space weather storm every 27 days, which is the time it takes for the Sun to rotate once.

To make things more interesting, we need solar active regions, or sunspots, to spice things up.  Sun spots are small regions on the Sun’s surface where the Sun’s magnetic field and particles are active and unstable.  They are the source of real space weather storms. 

The major problem for interesting space weather is that there are no sunspots.  None!

Images from the Solar Dynamic Observatory showing that Sun spots are on spring break.

This story from NASA has all the details, but the gist of it is that we are currently in a stretch of such weak solar activity that there are no observable sunspots.  The Sun has an activity cycle of 11 years.  We are right in the middle of solar minimum of Cycle 24, one of the most boring solar cycles in recorded history.  The cycle has hit an activity level of zero.  This is so boring that it wraps over and becomes interesting again.

Periods like this are sparse but not unheard of.  There have been long stretches of boring, notably, the Maunder Minimum of the late 1600s and early 1700s.  To be clear, we are not anywhere near that level of inactivity.  Indeed, if you wander over to the Solar Dynamics Observatory data site, you can see that sunspots have already returned.  However, the increasing amount of boring has led some scientists to wonder if we’re not heading into a new prolonged period of solar boring.  This would be especially exciting for solar physicists, who work to understand the solar dynamo.  For space weather, however, it would just be… boring.


See you on the dark side of the Sun.

This is pretty cool- CLaSP professor Justin Kasper is going to be featured in an upcoming Discovery Channel documentary called “The Dark Side of the Sun“.  The program will discuss space weather effects and how we learn about the Sun.  It will include extensive discussion on an upcoming mission, Solar Probe Plus, which will get closer to the sun than any previous mission.  It’s always exciting to see CLaSP researchers in the limelight for their work!


GPS as a Space Weather Monitor

GPS satellite orbits around the Earth.  Each satellite has a radiation sensor that can be used to learn more about the radiation belts.
GPS satellite orbits around the Earth. Each satellite has a radiation sensor that can be used to learn more about the radiation belts.

Big space weather news this week: measurements of the “radiation belts” made by the Global Positioning System satellites are now available to space weather researchers.  This is a huge deal for several reasons, but let’s start by unpacking that sentence:

Continue reading “GPS as a Space Weather Monitor”


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