From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published February 10, 2011 08:17 AM

Space Weather

Space weather is the concept of changing environmental conditions in near-Earth space. It is distinct from the concept of weather within a planetary atmosphere, and deals with phenomena involving ambient plasma, magnetic fields, radiation and other matter in space. "Space weather" often implicitly means the conditions in near-Earth space within the magnetosphere and ionosphere, but it is also studied in interplanetary (and occasionally interstellar) space. The primary source of these changes is what happens on the Sun. Changes in the near-Earth space environment affect our society. The best known ground-level consequence of space weather is geomagnetically induced currents, or GIC. These are damaging electrical currents that can flow in power grids, pipelines and other conducting networks and cause disruptions and black outs. Eight years ago, the American Meteorological Society tentatively reached out to the space weather community by scheduling a day-and-a-half Space Weather Symposium at its Annual Meeting. That symposium included briefings from operational and research agencies involved with space weather as well as a variety of talks targeting areas of interest common to meteorology and space weather.


Since 1995, the joint NASA-ESA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory spacecraft is the main source of near-real time solar data for space weather prediction. It was joined in 1998 by the NASA Advanced Composition Explorer, which carries a space weather beacon for continuous transmission of relevant in situ space environment data.

A variety of physical phenomena are associated with space weather, including geomagnetic storms and substorms, energization of the Van Allen radiation belts, ionospheric disturbances and scintillation, aurora and geomagnetically induced currents at Earth's surface. Coronal mass ejections and their associated shock waves are also important drivers of space weather as they can compress the magnetosphere and trigger geomagnetic storms. Solar energetic particles, accelerated by coronal mass ejections or solar flares, are also an important driver of space weather as they can damage electronics on board spacecraft through induced electric currents.

Most times space weather cannot be observed by the average person. This does not mean it does not exist and could have effects on daily life. The most visual affected phenomena are the aurora borealis or northern lights. However really bad space weather could effect cell phone use or any other signal transmitted through the air.

Topics at the annual conference include data assimilation, connections between the lower and upper atmosphere, new space weather sensors and models, and the economic and social impacts of space weather. The Council is to vote on making the space weather discipline a regular part of the society by creating a new Space Weather Committee for the Scientific and Technological Activities Commission. The affects of space weather on modern society are gradually becoming more important and may lead to space weather forecasting on a regular basis.

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