Predicting magnetic storms or an aurora borealis may become as common as weekend weather forecasts, a group of US scientists announced on Tuesday.
The National Science Foundation named Boston University the home of the new Center for Integrated Space Weather Modeling to study the effects of solar flares, magnetic storms and other invisible influences on Earth’s
atmosphere with a budget of 20 million dollars over the next five years.
One particular area the center will focus on will be the interaction between solar winds and Earth’s magnetic field, two variables dreaded by astronauts, satellite owners and telecommunications operators.
Today there is no one centralized computer that analyzes all of the sources space weather information, so researchers can’t predict space phenomena more than 24 hours in advance.
Some scientists believe that solar winds in particular could have long-lasting thermal and dynamic effects on the Earth’s atmosphere and climate.
“We will not only do new science, but we will also build a robust and operationally useful forecasting tool for both civilian and military space weather forecaster,” said Jeffrey Hughes, the center’s new director.
The National Center for Atmospheric Research pledged an additional 3.3 million dollars to the new center for modeling the ionosphere, the outermost layer of the atmosphere.
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“Current predictions are based on techniques analogous to those used by meteorologists 50 years ago,” added Charles Goodrich, deputy director of the new center added.
“We are confident that with the knowledge base and the advanced computer technology now available, we can create the first integrated predictive space weather model within the next ten years,” he said.
“The big solar energy blasts move fast and can have a huge impact on the ionosphere. With the planned … model, it’s within our technical reach to advance from the current system of alerts and warnings for these events to more precise numerical forecasts,” said Stan Solomon, a researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
“These can give us enough lead time – hours to days – to prepare for possible disruptions to communications and navigation. And we’ll try to predict when and where people can see an aurora,” he said.
The University of Boston initially plans on linking existing data-processing models, several of which were designed institutions participating in the center’s consortium such as the Wilcox Observatory at Stanford University in California and NASA which owns the Advanced Composition Explorer and High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager observation satellites.