Space weather describes environmental conditions in space that can affect our planet. It exists because magnetic fields, radiation, particles and matter ejected from the Sun can interact with the Earth’s magnetic field and upper atmosphere to produce many different effects. In this way, space weather is a product of the activity of the Sun, the Earth’s magnetic field, and atmosphere, and our location in the solar system.
Professor Sandra Chapman, from University of Warwick’s Centre for Fusion, Space and Astrophysics led a project with a breakthrough finding that will enable better understanding and planning for space weather, including enabling us to predict any threats it may pose to our planet.
Magnetic fields, radiation, particles and matter ejected from the sun can interact with the Earth’s magnetic field and upper atmosphere to produce many different effects
Ground and space-based observations have made continuous monitoring of space weather, and its response seen on Earth, possible. Professor Chapman’s team analysed the last five solar maxima, where each one appears every 11 years as the Sun goes through a solar cycle. It has been discovered that there is an underlying pattern in how the activity of space weather changes with the solar cycle.
The solar cycle describes the 11-year change in the solar activity. It concerns changes in the level of radiation emitted by the Sun as well as the ejection of solar material. In addition, it is also manifested in the appearance of the Sun such as the number and size of sunspots and flares. Solar maxima describe the time during which the solar hotspots increase to their maximum point in a solar cycle. Increased solar activity means more solar flares that could lead to extreme space weather on Earth.
It has been discovered that there is an underlying pattern in how the activity of space weather changes with the solar cycle
This ground-breaking research show s that space weather and the activity of the sun are not entirely random but have a trend making them predictable behaviours. This discovery is of huge importance because space weather affects many different services here on our planet, such as electronics, aviation and satellite systems and communications.
Professor Chapman comments that “if this pattern persists into the next solar maximum, our research, which constrains how likely large events are, will allow better preparation for potential space weather threats to Earth.” It has, however, also been highlighted that each solar maximum led to a different effect on the planet because each solar cycle has a different duration and peak activity level. The more extreme events have been found less frequently in the analysis, therefore, it is harder to build a statistical model to predict how likely they are to occur.
This discovery is of huge importance because space weather affects many different services here on our planet, such as electronics, aviation and satellite systems and communications
Up until now, space weather was found difficult to forecast but with the findings of Professor Chapman’s project, there is the likelihood of being able to predict and therefore plan for what is coming next on our planet, including any future threats.