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.

This set the stage for the keynote presentation from Delores Knipp, who told the story of the 1967 space weather storm.  This begins in the cold war, deep in the era of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).  Lines of radar observatories were erected to detect bombers and ballistic missiles traversing the pole.  Enter the great solar flare of May 1967.  The storm created so much atmospheric activity that all of the radar detection sites became completely signal-saturated.  Being as this was the middle of the cold war, some nuclear powers may have gotten a bit concerned over this.  Dr. Knipp walked through the event, including views from many who were part of them as they unfolded.  

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any cool pictures of the talk.  To make up for this, here’s a picture of the abandoned DYE-2 radome on the Greenlandic ice sheet that I took circa 2006:

The DYE-2 station on the Greenland ice sheet, abandoned in the late 1980s.  Such stations were rendered useless during the solar storm of 1967.  I sincerely hope this photo makes up for my lack of pictures from the actual presentation.

The rest of the day was dedicated to effects on satellite communications.  It never ceases to amaze me just how vulnerable GPS signals are during space weather events: positioning becomes very inaccurate due to waves and perturbations in the atmosphere.  There were also several talks concerning satellite malfunctions due to electric charging and particle radiation.  An outstanding challenge is determining when a satellite problem is due to space weather, an engineering malfunction, or just natural satellite aging.  A big part of space weather isn’t forecasting to predict the future, it’s work to understand the past.