Nav: Home

Solar storm forecasts for Earth improved with help from the public

September 18, 2020

Solar storm analysis carried out by an army of citizen scientists has helped researchers devise a new and more accurate way of forecasting when Earth will be hit by harmful space weather. Scientists at the University of Reading added analysis carried out by members of the public to computer models designed to predict when coronal mass ejections (CMEs) - huge solar eruptions that are harmful to satellites and astronauts - will arrive at Earth.

The team found forecasts were 20% more accurate, and uncertainty was reduced by 15%, when incorporating information about the size and shape of the CMEs in the volunteer analysis. The data was captured by thousands of members of the public during the latest activity in the Solar Stormwatch citizen science project, which was devised by Reading researchers and has been running since 2010.

The findings support the inclusion of wide-field CME imaging cameras on board space weather monitoring missions currently being planned by agencies like NASA and ESA.

Dr Luke Barnard, space weather researcher at the University of Reading's Department of Meteorology, who led the study, said: "CMEs are sausage-shaped blobs made up of billions of tonnes of magnetised plasma that erupt from the Sun's atmosphere at a million miles an hour. They are capable of damaging satellites, overloading power grids and exposing astronauts to harmful radiation.

"Predicting when they are on a collision course with Earth is therefore extremely important, but is made difficult by the fact the speed and direction of CMEs vary wildly and are affected by solar wind, and they constantly change shape as they travel through space.

"Solar storm forecasts are currently based on observations of CMEs as soon as they leave the Sun's surface, meaning they come with a large degree of uncertainty. The volunteer data offered a second stage of observations at a point when the CME was more established, which gave a better idea of its shape and trajectory.

"The value of additional CME observations demonstrates how useful it would be to include cameras on board spacecraft in future space weather monitoring missions. More accurate predictions could help prevent catastrophic damage to our infrastructure and could even save lives."

In the study, published in AGU Advances, the scientists used a brand new solar wind model, developed by Reading co-author Professor Mathew Owens, for the first time to create CME forecasts.

The simplified model is able to run up to 200 simulations - compared to around 20 currently used by more complex models - to provide improved estimates of the solar wind speed and its impact on the movement of CMEs, the most harmful of which can reach Earth in 15-18 hours.

Adding the public CME observations to the model's predictions helped provide a clearer picture of the likely path the CME would take through space, reducing the uncertainty in the forecast. The new method could also be applied to other solar wind models.

The Solar Stormwatch project was led by Reading co-author Professor Chris Scott. It asked volunteers to trace the outline of thousands of past CMEs captured by Heliospheric Imagers - specialist, wide-angle cameras - on board two NASA STEREO spacecraft, which orbit the Sun and monitor the space between it and Earth.

The scientists retrospectively applied their new forecasting method to the same CMEs the volunteers had analysed to test how much more accurate their forecasts were with the additional observations.

Using the new method for future solar storm forecasts would require swift real-time analysis of the images captured by the spacecraft camera, which would provide warning of a CME being on course for Earth several hours or even days in advance of its arrival.
-end-


University of Reading

Related Solar Wind Articles:

Wind beneath their wings: Albatrosses fine-tuned to wind conditions
A new study of albatrosses has found that wind plays a bigger role in their decision to take flight than previously thought, and due to their differences in body size, males and females differ in their response to wind.
New research deepens understanding of Earth's interaction with the solar wind
A team of scientists at PPPL and Princeton University has reproduced a process that occurs in space to deepen understanding of what happens when the Earth encounters the solar wind.
Hydropower plants to support solar and wind energy in West Africa
Study maps smart electricity mix composed of solar, wind and hydropower for West Africa -- regional cooperation can provide up to 60% reliable and clean electricity
Solar and wind energy sites mapped globally for the first time
Researchers at the University of Southampton have mapped the global locations of major renewable energy sites, providing a valuable resource to help assess their potential environmental impact.
New research helps explain why the solar wind is hotter than expected
When the sun expels plasma, the solar wind cools as it expands through space -- but not as much as the laws of physics would predict.
Solar wind samples suggest new physics of massive solar ejections
A new study led by the University of Hawai'i (UH) at Mānoa has helped refine understanding of the amount of hydrogen, helium and other elements present in violent outbursts from the Sun, and other types of solar 'wind,' a stream of ionized atoms ejected from the Sun.
Supporting structures of wind turbines contribute to wind farm blockage effect
Much about the aerodynamic effects of larger wind farms remains poorly understood.
Parker Solar Probe traces solar wind to its source on sun's surface: coronal holes
New data from the Parker Solar Probe, which got closer to the sun than any other spacecraft, allowed physicists to map the source of a major component of the solar wind that continually peppers Earth.
Closest-ever approach to the sun gives new insights into the solar wind
The Parker Solar Probe spacecraft, which has flown closer to the sun than any mission before, has found new evidence of the origins of the solar wind.
SwRI-built instrument confirms solar wind slows farther away from the Sun
Measurements taken by the Solar Wind Around Pluto (SWAP) instrument aboard NASA's New Horizons spacecraft are providing important new insights from some of the farthest reaches of space ever explored.
More Solar Wind News and Solar Wind Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.