Space Weather: the importance of observations

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This meeting is jointly organised between the Royal Meteorological Society and the Royal Astronomical Society.

Organisers: Dr Suzy Bingham (Met Office) and Professor Mike Hapgood (RAL Space)

Most space weather occurs due to the Sun's emissions which can affect the Earth's space environment.  Modern society is ever more dependent upon ground-based & spaceborne technology which can be vulnerable to space weather.  Satellites, GPS, aviation & the electric power industry are all at risk from this & hence space weather is now included on the UK's National Risk Register.  It is important to have long-running, continuous observations for forecasting, nowcasting & for research in space weather.  This public meeting, held during the peak of the 11 year solar cycle, addresses the deficiency in continuous, long-term observations & how this might be overcome.  

14:00  Welcome & Introduction

14:15  The vital role of ground-based sensors in the monitoring of space weather, Mike Hapgood, RAL Space.

14:45  Space weather & GPS, Cathryn Mitchell, University of Bath.

15:15  The importance of solar wind magnetic field observations & the upcoming Sunjammer solar sail mission, Jonathan Eastwood, Imperial College London.

15:30  Particle measurements on the Sunjammer solar sail mission, Dhiren Kataria, Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

15:45  Tea & coffee break

16:15  Demonstrating the power of heliospheric imaging for space weather applications: Tracking CMEs from Sun to Earth, Richard Harrison, RAL Space.

16:45  In-situ radiation & plasma monitoring on operational spacecraft, Dave Pitchford, SES Engineering.

17:15  International opportunities & challenges for the long-term continuity of data, Terry Onsager, NOAA Space Weather Prediction Centre.

17:45  Meeting close

This meeting is sponsored by the Grantham Institue for Climate Change, an institute of Imperial College London and the Royal Astronomical Society and is part of the Royal Meteorological Society National Meetings programme, open to all, from expert to enthusiast, for topical discussions on the latest advances in weather and climate.

Non members are welcome to attend these meetings. Where seating capacity is limited, priority will be given to members.


The importance of solar wind magnetic field observations & the upcoming Sunjammer solar sail mission, Jonathan Eastwood, Imperial College London

Earth-directed Coronal Mass Ejections can cause geomagnetic storms (an example of space weather), but this depends on their internal magnetic field, which must be measured in situ. To increase warning times, monitoring platforms operating further upstream of the Earth than existing satellites are needed, and this could be accomplished by a spacecraft using a solar sail. Sunjammer is a NASA technology demonstration mission due to launch in 2014 which will use a solar sail to fly to a sub-L1 location. Here we describe the development of a highly miniaturized magnetometer (MAGIC) at Imperial College. MAGIC will form part of the space weather payload carried by Sunjammer and will be used to conduct scientific studies of the solar wind magnetic field and its evolution to better understand the fundamental sources and causes of space weather.

In-situ radiation and plasma monitoring on operational spacecraft. Dave Pitchford, SES Engineering

Knowledge of the radiation and plasma environment that a spacecraft is exposed to is important information for a spacecraft operator to have, however very few commercial satellites are launched with space weather sensors to provide such data. Here we review the utility of space weather information to commercial satellite operators and discuss the sparseness of data coverage at geostationary orbit. Small space weather sensors, suitable for hosting as a secondary payload on commercial satellites, are presented - together with some samples of data produced by them. The additional scientific value of data from these sensors is discussed, and finally the applicability of such sensors to the ESA Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme is reviewed. 

Mike Hapgood, RAL Space

Ground-based observations play an important role in the monitoring of space weather, especially of its manifestations at the terrestrial end of the Sun-Earth connection, e.g. changes in the state of the upper atmosphere, in the geomagnetic field, and in the flux of cosmic rays reaching the Earth's surface. Their importance is widely recognised in the space weather expert community and recorded in measurement requirements developed by many organisations. However, current funding for ground-based measurements is piecemeal and frequently at risk. This talk will review the roles of these measurements and argue that we need to develop a strategic vision in which the strengths of ground-based measurements are brought out and shown to complement satellite measurements. This vision needs to be disseminated to the wider scientific community and to decision-makers in government and industry in order to put these measurements on a more secure, and perhaps a more innovative, basis.

Particle measurements with the Solar Wind Analyser (SWAN) on the Sunjammer solar sail mission, Dhiren Kataria, Mullard Space Science Laboratory:


A key requirement for a future space weather operational missions is instrumentation that can carry out reliable and continuous in-situ measurements of the environment. The Solar Wind Analyser (SWAN), to be delivered for NASA's Sunjammer solar sail mission, is a miniaturised sensor combining an electrostatic analyser with an energetic particle detection system. The instrument is designed to carry out measurements of the low to medium energy solar wind plasma on a spacecraft with a large solar sail and aims demonstrate the ability to provide real-time data for advanced space-weather warning systems. Besides continuous real-time observations for space weather purposes, the instrument will contribute towards furthering our understanding of the science of space weather. This is still a relatively young field and significant work is required to fully understand the physics of these space-based events.

 Demonstrating the power of heliospheric imaging for space weather applications: Tracking CMEs from Sun to Earth, Richard Harrison, RAL Space:


The UK-led Heliospheric Imagers (HI) aboard the NASA STEREO spacecraft allow imaging of Earth-directed solar coronal mass ejection (CME) events in the heliosphere from unique vantage points outside the Sun-Earth line. This capability has opened numerous lines of research into the identification and tracking of CMEs from the Sun to the Earth, including studies involving the imaging of CMEs actually passing over the Earth, and studies of the propagation and evolution of CMEs as they pass through the heliosphere. Thus, the world-wide investigation of CME activity and its impacts on the Earth has taken significant strides in recent years with this new capability, and we are able to use the information in the design of future space weather applications.