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Scientists Get $2M To Predict Space Weather

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the spock-with-a-goatee dept.

Space 40

coondoggie writes "Looking to understand better how space weather affects a variety of everyday consumer technologies, including global positioning systems, satellites for television reception, and cellular phones, researchers at Virginia Tech's Space@VT research group got a $2 million grant to build a chain of space weather instrument stations in Antarctica. The National Science Foundation grant will help the group build new radar units that will work with the current Super Dual-Auroral Radar Network — an international collaboration with support provided by the funding agencies of more than a dozen countries. The radars combine to give extensive views of the upper atmosphere in both the Arctic and Antarctic regions."

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40 comments

SPACE WEATHER! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29202919)

What's the weather like Ollie?

SPACE WEATHER!

Re:SPACE WEATHER! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29202993)

What's the weather like Ollie?

DAMN COLD!!!

GOES satellites? (1)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 4 years ago | (#29202997)

A lot of this is done by the GOES satellites already. They are in polar orbits, so they pass about every 90 minutes over each pole. Having ground stations means more continuous coverage (maybe at lower cost), but there's a lot of Eatmosphere in the way, often murky...

Re:GOES satellites? (4, Informative)

NotNormallyNormal (1311339) | more than 4 years ago | (#29204089)

This is wrong. The GOES satellites [wikipedia.org] are geo-synchronous, meaning they remain at continuous location with respect to the Earth. This also means that they are not in polar orbits. These satellites are similar to the LANL satellites [lanl.gov] but occupy the western hemisphere. You may be thinking of the DMSP satellites [nasa.gov].

GOES is useful at measuring the magnetic fields. It does not, however, measure the ionospheric particles such as is done with the SuperDARN [jhuapl.edu] coherent scatter radars or the EISCAT [eiscat.se] or PFISR [sri.com] incoherent scatter radars. The group at the University of Saskatchewan [usask.ca] has also received money to build a new radar which is scheduled to be built on the NE corner of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic. It will be their 5th radar.

Re:GOES satellites? (1)

obi1one (524241) | more than 4 years ago | (#29204729)

This is right, but not entirely. Decommissioned GOES satellites go into a non stationary figure eight orbit. This is how GOES-3 is able to provide communication with the south pole. (See the bit about GOES-3 [wikipedia.org])

Re:GOES satellites? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29205699)

This is right, but not entirely. Decommissioned GOES satellites go into a non stationary figure eight orbit. This is how GOES-3 is able to provide communication with the south pole.

What part wasn't right? GOES-3 is no longer in a geostationary orbit. It certainly isn't in a polar orbit!

Re:GOES satellites? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29204961)

...The GOES satellites [wikipedia.org] are geo-synchronous, meaning they remain at continuous location with respect to the Earth.

And, that's wrong. "Geosynchronous" only means that the orbital period matches a terrestrial sidereal day. It doesn't necessarily hang over the same spot on the surface. The word you were looking for was "geostationary."

Re:GOES satellites? (1)

NotNormallyNormal (1311339) | more than 4 years ago | (#29206043)

Indeed - you are correct by saying geostationary but they are also geosynchronous. GOES and LANL are geosynchronous but are at the zero inclination (this is a special case of geosynchronous orbit - called geostationary). In fact, looking at the LANL satellite page [lanl.gov] you see they also refer to it as "geosynchronous". Perhaps we use the term loosely but we do use it correctly.

Space weather (4, Funny)

PPH (736903) | more than 4 years ago | (#29203049)

Cold and dark.

Gimme my $2M.

Re:Space weather (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29203173)

Proves that you can make a quick buck in today's world of government. Connections and PhDs becoming salesmen also help too.

In the end, good for them, it's research and we (i.e. the taxpayers) should allow inquires into such topics, but $2million? Shoot, why not give me one million to study how Neptune effects how soggy your corn flakes are through the butterfly effect.

Anything over a million for an R&D investigation sounds a bit too excessive?

Re:Space weather (2, Insightful)

Kagura (843695) | more than 4 years ago | (#29203355)

The U.S. military has been doing space weather forecasts for a looooong time. It's important to a whole gamut of communication operations.

Re:Space weather (1)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 4 years ago | (#29203361)

They are building a series of instruments in Antarctica. Transport costs alone are going to eat up a fairly large chunk of that 2 million, and radar equipment isn't exactly cheap either. Quit frankly I would be surprised if they could even attempt this for only 2 million.

Re:Space weather (1)

DarthVain (724186) | more than 4 years ago | (#29203357)

With periods of Hot and Bright.

Gimmie half of that.

Re:Space weather (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29203501)

Technically, you are correct. We were going to give you half of the $2M but, clearly with a name like "DarthVain", you're just going to spend it on another Death Star.

-- The Government

Re:Space weather (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29209559)

Voters don't like the term "Death Star", so we've opted to calling it the "Passing Star"

Re:Space weather (4, Informative)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 4 years ago | (#29203403)

I know it was a joke, so WHOOOSH me if you must, but in the interest of pedantry I feel the burning need to correct you. Space is only cold and dark when you are in the shadow of some other body (planet, asteroid, whatever). If you happen to be outside the shadow of a body, then you can forget cold, and you can forget dark. Keeping electronics functioning on satellites when there is blistering, unfiltered solar radiation hitting your spacecraft is no easy task. In other words, 'cold and dark' only describes a very small number of relative orientations an object may have to the sun.

Cheers.

Re:Space weather (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#29205709)

I know it was a joke, so WHOOOSH me if you must, but in the interest of pedantry I feel the burning need to correct you. Space is only cold and dark when you are in the shadow of some other body (planet, asteroid, whatever).

Even when you are in the shadow of another body - you may not be cold if that body itself is warm (radiating heat). One such example is LEO - the Apollo CSM's for Skylab couldn't use 'rotisserie mode' to control temperature as the moon bound ones did, and thus their skins had to be redone to prevent the Earth facing side from overheating. (This is also why the ISS would have to be seriously redone to survive in Lunar orbit, not only does the Moon fill less of the sky, there's a vast contrast in radiated heat between the sunlit and shadowed sides.)
 

f you happen to be outside the shadow of a body, then you can forget cold, and you can forget dark.

Even when out of the shadow of a body, the shadowed side of your spacecraft will be awfully cold, unless it's facing another body and heated by radiant heat from it. Even so, the Sun is essentially a point source and your space craft is 'seeing' an awful lot of cold dark space.
 

Keeping electronics functioning on satellites when there is blistering, unfiltered solar radiation hitting your spacecraft is no easy task. In other words, 'cold and dark' only describes a very small number of relative orientations an object may have to the sun.

Not only is not an easy task, it is a very complex one depending on the total thermal environment.

Re:Space weather (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 4 years ago | (#29203727)

Reminds me of Al Sleet, the Hippie-Dippie Weatherman:
"Now, if you look at today's weather map, you'll notice we don't have one. So try to picture yesterday's map in your mind. Temperature is 10 degrees Kelvin at Tranquility Base, which is stupid because I don't know anyone who lives at Tranquility Base. Tonight's forecast: Dark. Continued dark throughout most of the evening, with some widely-scattered light towards morning."

Re:Space weather (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29206523)

With a chance of showers

Odds of getting it right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29203487)

Weather forecasters here on a small system of Earth can't get daily forecasts correct I wonder if the odds go up or down for Space Weather Forecasters of getting it right.

Re:Odds of getting it right? (1)

NotNormallyNormal (1311339) | more than 4 years ago | (#29206233)

Actually, forecast prediction has increased dramatically in the last 10 years based on the data from satellites nearer the Sun such as ACE [caltech.edu] and SOHO [nasa.gov]. Based on the solar information, ground-based and near Earth measurements have provided scientists (and engineers) the ability to combat potential events that could damage satellites (such as communication or GPS) or ground electrical systems. Based on observations of the Sun, we can give a forecast of as much as 3 days in advance with reasonable accuracy. Unexpected events do happen but overall, forecasting space weather is much easier than local tropospheric weather.

Ollie Williams Space Weather Forecast (1)

Chagatai (524580) | more than 4 years ago | (#29203803)

"And now time for Ollie Williams with the Space Weather Forecast. Ollie?"

"IT'S REALLY DARK!"

"Turn around, Ollie. How's the sun today?"

"BIG BALL O' FIRE! IT'S HOT!"

Re:Ollie Williams Space Weather Forecast (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 4 years ago | (#29204001)

" . . . oh, this just in from our Storm Center . . . we might get a few Gamma Ray Bursts in the afternoon, so pack some protective clothing with you this morning . . . "

does space weather affect Earth's temperature? (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 4 years ago | (#29203809)

The Earth is somewhat cool during the Sun's current solar storm activity lull. The Sun's radiation barely decreases during a cycle minimum- about a tenth of a percent- but too small to explain Earth's temperature drop. But solar storms are almost absent at this time. Its poorly understood how they could affect Earth's climate.

Re:does space weather affect Earth's temperature? (1)

NotNormallyNormal (1311339) | more than 4 years ago | (#29206611)

Actually, this is a very interesting observation. In the last 5 years or so there has been a flurry of activity on this particular point.

Recently an article by Scaffeta and West (Physics Today - maybe 2007? Don't have the reference handy) tried to link the temperature drop to the solar cycle, specifically solar flares. In my opinion they got the conclusions wrong. They should have related the tropospheric temperature changes to the number of sunspots (a semi accurate value representing the solar activity).

Looking at past data, the Little Ice Age [wikipedia.org] where a drop of 2 degrees in average temperature in Europe as measured, there was a period also known as the Maunder Minimum [wikipedia.org] in which there were very few to no sunspots for about 75 years (7 solar cycles). It has also been noted that when the Sun is not very active and it's magnetic field (the heliosphere) is weak cosmic rays are greater. Therefore it is possible to measure from tree rings a similar cooling (tree rings are smaller when it is cooler) much further back then when sunspots were being counted. These periods of weak solar activity often correspond to climate change on Earth - usually cooling.

With the current solar cycle not true having started and the solar wind at it's lowest average velocity ever measured, it is safe to say the Sun is not very active (I qualify this since it does have some activity). Whether this means that we are entering into a period of little solar activity similar to the Little Ice Age of the 1650-1770 or just going through a lull in activity is not clear.

Given this reasonable evidence, it could be concluded that the Sun does affect the Earth's climate. However, it is also being affected strongly by humans. Therefore, "global warming" may continue but at a slower rate if the Sun remains quiescent.

Barometer readings (1)

moeinvt (851793) | more than 4 years ago | (#29204303)

Looks like we'll have another low pressure front moving through as we go into the weekend, which will probably stick with us for at least the next few centuries.

Electric Bill (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29204431)

We can give two million dollars to predict space weather, but we can't afford to keep the air conditioning on in Squires Student Center.

Re:Electric Bill (1)

CorporateSuit (1319461) | more than 4 years ago | (#29204797)

We can give two million dollars to predict space weather, but we can't afford to keep the air conditioning on in Squires Student Center.

And it's all thanks to that no-good Animal House. :-\

Call Me a Buzzkill , But... (1)

flyneye (84093) | more than 4 years ago | (#29205671)

Call me a buzzkill , but , they haven't perfected predicting the weather here on earth with any certainty over 3 hours. Whats the point of throwing money to a program where a cointoss is as accurate as any other predictor?

Re:Call Me a Buzzkill , But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29207523)

That's because weather on earth is much more of a dynamic system (see Chaos Theory). Predicting space weather is more akin to predicting whether or not a volcano will erupt.

Sarah Palin Get $2M To Predict Jesus Arrival (1)

G3ckoG33k (647276) | more than 4 years ago | (#29206117)

"Sarah Palin Get $2M To Predict Jesus Arrival".

Naw, that was fake.

You have heard about some of these pet projects, they really donâ(TM)t make a whole lot of sense and sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not.

Yup, that one was for real. I kid you not.

Antarctica? (1)

R3d M3rcury (871886) | more than 4 years ago | (#29206281)

Looking to help better understand how space weather affects a variety of everyday consumer technologies, including global positioning systems, satellites for television reception, and cellular phones, researchers at Virginia Tech's Space@VT research group got a $2 million grant to build a chain of space weather instrument stations in Antarctica.

Hey, VT guys? There's not a whole lot of consumer technologies in Antarctica. That's because there aren't a whole lot of consumers in Antarctica.

I mean, one doesn't seem to necessarily go with the other. It's like saying, "We're going to build a bunch of weather stations that will tell us when it's raining so we can figure out the effect of rain on consumer devices."

I suppose the concept is that if my cell phone doesn't work, I can try to correlate it with what's going on in outer space...

Re:Antarctica? (2, Interesting)

NotNormallyNormal (1311339) | more than 4 years ago | (#29206709)

It is not for consumer technology in the Antarctic. The radars they are building will measure the plasma in the ionosphere which, correlated with the other 20 SuperDARN radars and other space science instruments, will provide information on how space weather can affect communication satellites, GPS, and ground-based networks such as cell phones and electrical systems globally. The Antarctic and Arctic regions sit in a very good position to measure the affects of the Sun on the Earth as the solar wind directly interacts with the upper atmosphere in the polar regions. A better understanding leads to better technology, for example better electrical transformers exist now to protect against surges due to large solar storms.

They don't need to spend $2M. Watch Futurama (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29217349)

SPACE WEATHER!

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