Scientists Make Major Breakthrough In Space Weather Forecasting
The sun has magnetic fields and electrical currents surrounding it in a region known as the heliosphere
Photo Credit :
Space weather might be the final frontier given the state of the art in weather forecasting technology. But that is exactly what a group of scientists at the Institute for Space-Earth Environmental Research at Nagoya University in Japan are trying to optimize.
The sun has magnetic fields and electrical currents surrounding it in a region known as the heliosphere. These magnetic fields twist and turn in such a way that it creates three dimensional structures known as 'magnetic flux ropes' (see image 2). These 'ropes' are tethered to the solar surface but have a tendency to break away every now and then. Such unknotting of the 'magnetic flux ropes' cause massive solar flares that belches electrically charged gas that periodically stir even the Earth's magnetosphere (magnetic field). These are like hurricanes in space.
The solar energy particles reaching the Earth's magnetosphere may causes huge geomagnetic storms that wreak havoc on our planet. Such storms can disrupt radio transmissions, damage satellites and cripple electricity transmission. Also, astronauts in space stations and people travelling by aeroplanes risk high exposure to cosmic rays.
The scientists at Nagoya University have developed a model to simulate the 'magnetic flux ropes' using real time solar observations. The simulation takes into account the Coronal Mass Ejections that are closely associated with solar flares. The scientists can now predict the arrival of such solar energy into Earth's neighbourhood. This is a big leap is space weather forecasting.
A series of Coronal Mass Ejections during October 2013 caused radio blackouts and collapse of satellite communications. Many airlines had to reroute their flights as a pre-emptive measure, especially those that flew over the Polar Regions.
The latest headway in space weather forecasting is a constructive step towards identifying such solar events that affect our planet and pinpoint the patch on earth as well. Further research in this field might also bring out methods to attenuate the impact of future storms created by solar activity.