Plans for an early-warning system that will give us a 24-hour window before solar storms affect the Earth have been revealed by NASA.
Neel Savani, the NASA researcher who developed the device, said: “As we become more entwined with technology, disruption from large space weather events affects our daily lives more and more. Breaking through that 24-hour barrier to prediction is crucial for dealing efficiently with any potential problems before they arise.”
Savani’s measurement and modelling tool closely observes the places where coronal mass ejections (CMEs) begin from on the Sun. It also uses a number of different observatories for tracking and modeling the evolution of the CME.
Although 24 hours might not seem like a very long time, the existing detection systems only give us 30 to 60 minutes of warning. That is certainly not long enough to make preparation for protecting vulnerable electronics and equipment.
Researchers have tested the new technique on eight different solar storms so far. According to Savani, the forecasts showed significant agreement with the predictions.
Savani, a space physicist affiliated with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, wrote in an article for The Conversation:
“Since these cameras are located at very different vantage points in space, we can use them in conjunction to improve our estimations of the total shape and location of the solar storm — much like the depth of field we achieve by seeing the world through two eyes”
The new method is based correctly modifying a previous discovery about how the motions of solar plasma (mostly hydrogen ions) and magnetic field hidden below the sun’s surface can affect the initial structure of a solar storm. It’s called the solar dynamo process.
This is a physical process that is believed to generate the sun’s magnetic field. It’s the engine and energy source driving all observed solar activity. That includes sunspots and long-term solar variability as well as solar storms.
Illustration: NASA/Goddard/SDO, CC BY