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Is There Weather In Space?

A solar flare with an eruptive prominence on the limb of the sun. Space weather occurs in the area between the Earth and the Sun and refers to the disturbances and storms that swirl through space, which could have adverse effects on human activities. These disturbances are caused by solar activity that cause variations of electromagnetic fields and energetic particle fluxes.

Many activities on the ground, including communication and power generation, are affected by changing conditions in space. For instance, in 1989 the entire province of Quebec was thrown into darkness when a geomagnetic storm caused an overload on power lines. In space, astronauts face unique hazards when venturing outside the safety of the space shuttle and need to be alerted to the dangers of energetic particle emissions from the Sun. This need will increase as teams of astronauts construct the International Space Station. As our use of space increases, so must the ability to predict conditions in space, to safeguard human lives, and to protect the nation's investment in these new technologies.

Much of what happens concerning space weather is dictated by the Sun. Solar flares, Coronal Mass Ejections and other solar activities cause the stormy weather of space. Unlike the weather situation on Earth, where observations at thousands of locations around the world are recorded, weather conditions in space are monitored by only a handful of space-based and ground-based facilities. Space weather forecasters are required to predict conditions in space using a minimum of guidance from actual measurements. The launch of NASA's ACE satellite has improved this situation, making it possible for forecasters to get an advance warning (about one hour) of geomagnetic storms heading towards Earth. This will enable SEC to issue alerts to users of space weather information with almost one hundred percent accuracy.


Fact Credit:
NOAA National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

Further Reading
Storms from the Sun: The Emerging Science of Space Weather
by Michael Carlowicz, Ramon Lopez

Related Web Links
Space Weather Now

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