Space Weather

Space weather refers to the dynamic response of the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field to the energetic wave and particle flux from the Sun, including some serious disruptions on the ground.

These dangerous energetic outputs from the Sun are mostly deflected by the Earth’s magnetic field, but some do penetrate, and the deflection process causes magnetosonic reverberations much like an object in a wind tunnel. Some of the reverberations of space weather are quite beautiful, like the dazzling aurora at high latitudes. But others are downright scary, like radiation degradation of satellite electronics, high voltage charging, and increased drag. Astronaut safety can be threated, as well.

Even on the ground with the protection of the atmosphere above us, we are far from immune to these effects. Massive power outages can occur (and have previously occurred on a smaller scale), we can lose satellite communications, GPS and therefore everything reliant on it (including cell phone network, financial system, etc). And yet, our ability to forecast, letalone, mitigate, the inevitable major space weather storm remains in its infancy.

Today’s space weather research involves combining advanced theoretical modeling of plasmas and gas dynamics from the Sun’s interior all the way to the Earth, high-performance computing, advanced satellite constellation measurements, data science and machine learning.