October 10, 2019 0

An Introduction to Space Weather and the Space Weather Prediction Center

An Introduction to Space Weather and the Space Weather Prediction Center


[Digital Sounds] [High Energy Music] Technology. It’s the rhythm of our everyday life. We’re more dependent on satellite and communication systems than at any other time in history. Disruptions can affect our economy and even our safety. To prepare for the effects of such events, and minimize impacts, we need to look outside our atmosphere – some ninety-three million miles away – at a star we call the Sun. [Ambient Music] It’s our main energy source. It warms the Earth and grows our food. While the Sun and the space between may seem pleasant from our perspective, it’s anything but peaceful. At its surface exists a chaotic state of eruptions and radiation. And unlike Vegas, what happens at the Sun doesn’t stay at the Sun. Space weather is essentially emissions from the sun: radiation, magnetic field that erupts from the solar surface, pumped out into space – sometimes right toward Earth. When it impacts the Earth, it impacts our technology. That’s what we call space weather. These solar events and their effects at Earth can disrupt systems we take for granted – from causing blackouts to the power grid – to delaying offshore drilling operations due to inaccurate GPS data. Interference with communication systems can force air traffic to reroute and impact rescue response and coordination. Outside our atmosphere, solar radiation can harm astronauts and the systems they depend on. The good news is these eruptions can be detected early. Forecasters at the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado have their eyes on the Sun at all times. The Space Weather Prediction Center is part of the National Weather Service and is very much like a normal weather forecast office. We’re here twenty-four hours a day, 7 days a week. We’re looking at data. We’re looking at imagery. We’re looking at model outputs. As conditions develop, we put out alerts, warnings, and watches of imminent activity to our customers so they can take action. In many ways, forecasting space weather is a lot like forecasting hurricanes. Those who rely on space weather forecasts – like electric power grid managers – are informed early on and can begin taking protective action. When we see an eruption on the sun, Space Weather forecasters will issue a watch. This is much like a hurricane watch – when a hurricane sits offshore of Miami, for example – perhaps forty-eight hours out. We too can see way in advance that something may be coming towards the Earth. As the storm moves toward us, it hits a monitoring spacecraft orbiting a million miles away from Earth. It’s kind of our buoy sitting out there offshore and that hurricane about thirty, forty-five minutes before it makes landfall, we’ll get the measurements from the buoy. That’s what this spacecraft does for us. That big eruption that left the Sun hits the spacecraft. Now we’ve got the measurements of exactly what’s going to impact us here on Earth and we issue the warnings to give the power grid a heads up that the storm is now imminent. An interesting element to this whole process is that when the forecasters issue the alert, the power grid receives the alert, takes the necessary actions to protect the grid the average citizen never knows anything ever happened. [High Energy Music] The number of customers who rely on space weather information continues to grow. As our reliance on technology increases, so will our need for constant monitoring of the Sun.

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