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Forecasting space weather

Speed read
  • Coronal mass ejections can cause damage to satellites, disrupting communications and electricity systems.
  • The researchers are using computational speeds fast enough to operate under real-time forecasting conditions.
  • Being able to predict these events accurately is useful for forecasting weather in space.      

Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are expulsions of magnetic flux from the ionized atmosphere surrounding the sun (known as the solar corona). Using real-time solar observations, researchers have recently developed a model to simulate and predict CMEs based on the mechanisms behind CME generation and propagation through space.

Speeds of some powerful CMEs at the solar corona exceed 1000 km/s and can cause various kinds of disturbance in geospace. The radiation associated with CMEs has almost no influence on the Earth at ground level. However, these events can cause significant damage to satellites, which can in turn negatively impact communications and electricity systems on Earth.

Predicting CMEs accurately would be useful for helping to combat side effects of these events. “Although it is impossible to protect satellites from the disturbance completely, we can mitigate the damages to avoid critical operations such as altitude controls during the disturbance,” says lead author Daikou Shiota from Nagoya University.

<strong>Coronal mass ejection. </strong> A CME event with the flux rope anchored at the sun and the propagation of the magnetic flux rope through space toward Earth. Courtesy Nagoya University.

The work, recently published in Space Weather, was validated by using observational data from a series of CME events that caused radio blackouts and satellite communication failures in October 2003. The model simulates flux ropes from the sun to predict the amplitude of the magnetic field within a CME and its arrival time.

“Because our model does not simulate the solar coronal region, its computational speed is fast enough to operate under real-time forecasting conditions,” Shiota says. “This has various applications in ensemble space weather forecasting, radiation belt forecasting, and for further study of the effects of CME-generated solar winds on the larger magnetic structure of our solar system.”

Shiota and his team use virtually real-time observation data of magnetic fields on the surface of the sun obtained from the GONG project. The solar wind that emanates from the sun is simulated and its predicted profile at Earth is combined with a radiation belt model to then predict relativistic magnetic flux.

The findings contribute to scientific understanding of the mechanisms behind CME events and enhance the ability to predict magnetic fields in space.

Shiota says that in the future the assumed parameters will be improved and a system will be developed to automatically analyze CME observations. This way, researchers will be able to execute the simulation with real-time observation for use in space weather forecast operations.

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