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Space missions set to improve solar storm forecasts
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Space missions set to improve solar storm forecasts
by Staff Writers
Reading UK (SPX) May 19, 2023

Satellites launched into outer space could send back improved warnings of dangerous solar storms thanks to a breakthrough in the way scientists use space weather measurements.

Experts from the University of Reading have found that using satellite data that is less reliable but is returned to Earth rapidly can be used to improve the accuracy of solar wind forecasts - which are harmful streams of charged particles sent from the sun - by nearly 50 per cent.

Their research, published 18 May in Space Weather, could pave the way for agencies, such as the Met Office, to provide more accurate forecasts for severe space weather, which can cause blackouts and harm human health.

Lead researcher Harriet Turner, from the University of Reading's Department of Meteorology, said: "We know lots about how to prepare for storms that form on Earth, but we need to improve our forecasts of the dangerous weather we get from space. Space weather threatens our technology-focused way of life as it can cause power grids to fail, damage satellites, such as GPS, and even make astronauts ill.

"Our research has shown that using rapid satellite measurements to forecast space weather is effective. By sending spacecraft far from Earth, we can use this new technique to get better solar storm predictions and ensure we are prepared for what's to come."

Simon Machin, Met Office Space Weather Manager, said: "This is a great example of the value that can result through our collaboration with academia. By pulling through scientific research into the operational domain, improved space weather forecasting will ultimately enhance our nation's ability to prepare for and mitigate against space weather events."

Old dogs and new tricks
To predict space weather, scientists need to forecast the solar wind conditions at Earth. To do this, they combine computer simulations with observations from space to estimate what space weather will be like. This is known as data assimilation. The highest quality observations only become available many days after they are made, as they are processed on the ground and 'cleaned', meaning forecasts take longer to achieve.

To obtain forecasts faster, the research team tried using near-real-time (NRT) data. NRT data undergoes no processing or cleaning, meaning it is less accurate but can be made available within a couple of hours. The research team found that forecasts produced using the NRT data still produces reliable predictions and enables greater warning time. This could enable authorities to better prepare for power failures that cost up to 2.1 trillion dollars over a century in the USA and Europe.

To the stars
The scientists behind this new study say using this new technique with upcoming space missions will enable better forecasts.

The European Space Agency (ESA) will launch 'Vigil' in the mid-2020s, a first-of-its-kind mission that will monitor potentially hazardous solar activity using a number of UK-built instruments.

By launching the spacecraft into a position 60 degrees behind Earth in longitude, the Met Office will be able to improve space weather forecasts by using data assimilation of the NRT solar wind data.

It is hoped the unique location of Vigil will allow scientists to see the solar wind that will later arrive at Earth, maximising forecast accuracy and warning time.

Research Report:Solar wind data assimilation in an operational context: Use of near-real-time data and the forecast value of an L5 monitor.

SpaceDaily Analyst Report
Analyst A - Space Weather Analyst Rating: 10/10

From a Space Weather Analyst's perspective, the article holds a high relevance, presenting a breakthrough in solar storm forecasting. It highlights the application of less reliable but rapidly returned satellite data to improve solar wind forecasts' accuracy. This perspective's primary audience would include meteorologists, space agencies, and those interested in space weather.

Analyst B - Satellite Technology Analyst Rating: 9/10

As a Satellite Technology Analyst, the article is quite significant as it discusses how advanced satellite data and new space missions contribute to better understanding and predicting space weather. The primary audience from this perspective would include satellite technology firms, space agencies, and companies that rely on satellite data.

Analyst C - Infrastructure Risk Analyst Rating: 8/10

For an Infrastructure Risk Analyst, this article holds relevance as it discusses the potential effects of solar storms on technology, power grids, and human health. The implications of improved solar storm forecasts for risk mitigation are of interest. The primary audience here would be infrastructure management organizations, risk mitigation companies, and governmental bodies responsible for infrastructure and public safety.

Analyst Summary

The article reveals that satellites launched into outer space could bring improved warnings of dangerous solar storms, a breakthrough in utilizing space weather measurements. The University of Reading's research indicates that less reliable but rapidly returned satellite data can significantly enhance solar wind forecasts' accuracy. This development could have substantial implications for space weather forecasts and risk mitigation in infrastructure and technology. The use of near-real-time (NRT) data offers faster forecasting and longer warning times, a critical factor in managing potential disruptions due to solar storms.

Over the past 25 years, space weather prediction has significantly improved due to advancements in satellite technology and computer simulations. This development aligns with the ongoing efforts in the industry to create more accurate, rapid forecasting methods, although it does challenge the traditional reliance on high-quality data that requires extensive processing time.

1.Specific Details/Aspects of the Topic

An essential question to consider would be: What is the exact methodology behind using rapidly returned but less reliable satellite data to improve solar wind forecast accuracy? A thorough understanding of this method could offer a nuanced view of its implications and potential applicability in various settings.

2.Implications for the Broader Industry

Analysts might ask: How could this breakthrough in solar storm forecasting affect the broader satellite technology and space weather forecasting industries? Understanding this can help assess the potential industry-wide impact of this breakthrough.

3.Potential Future Developments

A critical question would be: How will upcoming space missions, like the ESA's 'Vigil,' leverage this breakthrough in solar storm forecasting? Investigating future possibilities can shed light on how the industry might evolve in the light of these developments.

4.Challenges or Obstacles

It would be beneficial to inquire: What potential challenges or obstacles could arise in implementing this new forecasting method on a broader scale? Identifying these challenges can guide preparations and adjustments to the new method.

5.Responses from Key Industry Stakeholders

A final pertinent question would be: How have key industry stakeholders, such as space agencies and meteorologists, responded to this breakthrough in solar storm forecasting? This question is crucial as the perceptions and reactions of stakeholders can influence the direction of further research and development in this area.

Related Links
University of Reading
Solar Science News at SpaceDaily

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