Last year, the National Academies convened a public workshop in Washington, DC, to discuss space weather and the challenges that it can pose to man's adventures on Earth and in the heavens. The capacity to cause disruption to the electrical grid probably has the greatest societal and economic impact; although not caused by space weather, the blackout that affected the northeastern US and Canada in 2003 had an economic impact in the range of $5 billion-10 billion. The space industry is at greater risk from space weather, since geomagnetic storms can affect satellite launches as well as spacecraft in orbit. Five scientists speaking at a workshop at the 2011 Fall AGU meeting in San Francisco on Tuesday, December 6 at 10 AM PST will discuss the complex -- and relatively new -- research area of space weather. The speakers will provide the context to understand the science of the sun-Earth system, discuss the details of potential space weather effects, and explain the state-of-the-art in terms of space weather modeling and prediction. So much of our modern technology is at risk from space weather, including satellites, communications and power grids. Discussing the state-of-the-art in such models, Michael Hesse of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., describes researchers' recent successes in data analysis and modeling efforts. Such prediction techniques are still young, not unlike the early days of Earth weather forecasting, but they nevertheless represent a giant leap in accuracy.


Rodney Viereck of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) in Boulder, Co., wraps up the workshop with a discussion on how the SWPC forecasters disseminate information to customers such as electric power grid operators, high frequency radio operators, commercial airlines, satellite operators, emergency managers, and a vast array of users who depend on satellite navigation (GPS).
Space weather had an even greater impact in 1989, when a geomagnetic storm knocked out power to most of Quebec for over nine hours. The 2003 storm resulted in the loss of the ADEOS-2 spacecraft at a cost of more than $600 million, and the FAA's recently implemented GPS-based Wide Area Augmentation System (a navigation aid for flights over the continental US) was out of action for more than a day. Between them, they use a variety of space- and Earth-based sensors to gather data for models that currently allow for moderately accurate predictions of severe space weather events over the long term, long term being defined as 1-3 days. At their most benign, such space weather events trigger beautiful aurora in the night sky as incoming particles collide with Earth's atmosphere and produce light.
Hesse leads the Community Coordinated Modeling Center at Goddard, which combines models with real time observations from NASA spacecraft that together show all sides of the sun.
NOAA works hand in hand with government agencies such NASA, DoD, NSF, USGS as well as the research community, to incorporate the latest models and data into their Space Weather Prediction Center. Showing high-resolution pictures of the sun's roiling surface, Baker will trace ejections from their origin at the sun through space to Earth's protective magnetic envelope.


Studying the causes and effects of space weather can help us to better predict these events and to take precautions to minimize their impacts. Such energy can disrupt and even damage human technology, and scientists would like to predict space weather as well as meteorologists do for conventional weather on Earth. The NASA Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) currently fulfills that role and provides key data to drive space weather models.
Our understanding of space weather has already improved substantially since the last solar maximum in 2001, and a host of spacecraft instruments are supplying data to continue to expand our knowledge. Such space weather-produced effects include loss of radio contact for airplanes on transpolar flights, astronauts imperiled by radiation, damage to electric grids, and disruption of cell phone service and underwater telecommunication cables, and destruction of satellite electronics.



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