24/7 Space News
Gaps preventing accurate predictions of solar flare impacts on Earth
file illustration
Gaps preventing accurate predictions of solar flare impacts on Earth
by Staff Writers for UMich News
Ann Arbor MI (SPX) Feb 29, 2024

The recent spike of activity from the sun occurred during what NASA has dubbed the Heliophysics Big Year-a celebration of solar science centered on the April 8 total eclipse, the last that will be visible from the continental U.S. for 20 years.

University of Michigan experts on space weather and solar physics are available to discuss how well the impacts of such flares on Earth can be predicted and what is needed to improve those predictions.

U-M has had a leading role in developing the models currently used by the national Space Weather Prediction Center to provide regional space weather forecasts for Earth and its surroundings, and the university now leads the NASA-funded $9.7-million Center for All-Clear Solar Energetic Particle Forecast, or CLEAR Center, which aims to forecast harmful solar particle radiation across the solar system.

Last week, the sun emitted three solar flares that reached X class-the highest on NASA and NOAA intensity scales. While disruptions on Earth were minimal, the sun is in a particularly active phase of its 11-year cycle of fluctuating activity.

Solar flares are emissions of radio waves, light, X-rays and gamma rays at the surface of the sun that are often preceded by potentially dangerous eruptions of highly energized streams of plasma particles, called solar energetic particle events, and clouds of plasma and magnetic fields, called coronal mass ejections, or CMEs.

These events can deliver lethal doses of radiation to astronauts working in space, damage the electronics on satellites, disrupt radio and GPS communications on Earth, and cause large power outages on the ground. However, we still don't fully understand when any particular solar flare at the sun can and will disrupt life on Earth.

Mojtaba Akhavan-Tafti is an assistant research scientist of climate and space sciences and engineering who studies how CMEs change on their way to Earth, potentially impacting their shape, intensity and likelihood of disrupting technology on Earth.

"A day after the incident, NASA and NOAA still could not verify whether there was a coronal mass ejection associated with the X-class flares," he said. "This is a reminder that we are ill-equipped to detect CMEs and see how they travel through the solar system.

"We currently have the know-how to vastly improve our solar activity detection and prediction capabilities, but we need Congress to approve funding to develop more advanced infrastructure for real-time monitoring of space weather."

Justin Kasper, professor of climate and space sciences and engineering, is the principal investigator of SunRISE, a NASA mission that aims to get more advanced intel on when harmful radiation from the sun might hit Earth.

"This particular flare wasn't a particularly disruptive event. It only impacted some daytime radio transmission," he said. "The rankings that people are talking about refer to how bright the flare is in the x-ray, but that is only one part of how solar activity can hurt us. If a flare creates high-energy particle radiation, that radiation needs to get to Earth to have an impact. If the flare is pointed away from Earth, it can take hours to days for the radiation to reach us. CMEs move slower and take days to reach us. So far, there's no sign of danger."

Right before the satellites at Earth detect energetic particles or CMEs, they always detect a very intense radio burst, suggesting that they could be a good early warning signal that a potentially disruptive event is approaching Earth. However, sometimes Earth gets a radio signal from the sun when no eruptions reach Earth. Kasper wants to test if this is due to an inconsistency in the sun's radio emissions or if it's only a matter of how the CME is oriented.

"Maybe the times we see the radio bursts without getting the solar-particle radiation is because the CME or solar particle event was pointed away from Earth," he said. "We want SunRISE to image what part of these eruptions are making those radio bursts so we can understand why the storms make those radio bursts and how they line up with Earth."

Even if we can see when a CME could hit Earth, it's hard to know if the CME will have any impact upon its arrival, Kasper said.

Related Links
Space Weather at University of Michigan
Solar Science News at SpaceDaily

Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters

The following news reports may link to other Space Media Network websites.
What the next solar maximum means for you
Washington DC (SPX) Jan 29, 2024
Much like the Earth, our Sun is a dynamic body with a complex - and sometimes violent - weather system. Solar storms eject highly energetic radiation that can impact our planet, forming strong auroras and disrupting power grids, electronics, and satellites. The scientific study of space weather attempts to understand, track, and forecast this solar activity, which peaks with the solar maximum every 11 years. The current solar cycle is predicted to peak in 2024. So, what might this mean for you? ... read more

New NASA astronauts graduate, eying Moon -- and Mars

Astronauts arrive at International Space Station for swap

SpaceX launches new crew to ISS

Under pressure - space exploration in our time

NASA's SpaceX Crew-8 mission docks with International Space Station

Australia's first orbital launch facility license awarded to Bowen Spaceport

MAPHEUS 14 high-altitude research rocket takes flight

Ex-Twitter execs sue Musk for unpaid severance

Study determines the original orientations of rocks drilled on Mars

NASA uses ORNL supercomputers to plan smooth landing on Mars

Bunsen Peak Piques Interest

Depositional Processes of the Margin Unit

Shenzhou 17 astronauts complete China's first in-space repair job

Tiangong Space Station's Solar Wings Restored After Spacewalk Repair by Shenzhou XVII Team

Chang'e 6 and new rockets highlight China's packed 2024 space agenda

Long March 5 deploys Communication Technology Demonstrator 11 satellite

Iridium to Boost Secure Global Navigation with Satelles Acquisition

US and Australia signs Space Technology Safeguards Agreement

Sidus Space Sets Public Offering Price

Sidus Space to Enhance Capital through Public Offering of Class A Shares and Warrants

Optimus satellite launch marks a new era for Australia and satellite servicing

PYXIS satellite set to enhance satellite technology

BrainChip Boosts Space Heritage with Launch of Akida into Low Earth Orbit

NASA Ends $2 Billion Satellite Refueling Project Amid Challenges

JWST images dispersing gas in a planet-forming disk for first time

Bayesian network analysis sheds light on sci-fi and real-world exoplanet representation

Astronomers reveal a new link between water and planet formation

Ice shell thickness reveals water temp on ocean worlds

NASA's Juno Mission Measures Oxygen Production at Europa

Solved at Pitt: What are Saturn's rings made of?

New moons of Uranus and Neptune announced

NASA's New Horizons Detects Dusty Hints of Extended Kuiper Belt

Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters


The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2023 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Statement Our advertisers use various cookies and the like to deliver the best ad banner available at one time. All network advertising suppliers have GDPR policies (Legitimate Interest) that conform with EU regulations for data collection. By using our websites you consent to cookie based advertising. If you do not agree with this then you must stop using the websites from May 25, 2018. Privacy Statement. Additional information can be found here at About Us.