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BIO Magazine - UK Met Office opens solar storm centre Δεκέμβριος 2015
Δεκέμβριος 2015 No38

BIO Space Sciences

UK Met Office opens solar storm centre
UK Met Office opens solar storm centre

The term describes the disruptive influence that storms at the surface of the Sun can have at Earth.

The worst of these events can disturb satellites, power grids and radio communications.

As with terrestrial weather, the Met Office, at its HQ in Exeter, has been asked to co-ordinate operational forecasting.

It has been doing this now for a number of weeks, working with experts across the UK and in the US, which has had a prediction service for many years.

Greg Clark MP: “We have some of the best space weather experts in the world”

The government has ordered contingencies be put in place.

Space weather has long been recognised as an issue, but experts say our increasing dependence on technology has made 21st Century society more vulnerable.

Explosive eruptions from the Sun can have a wide range of effects on modern infrastructure.

The magnetic fields in the biggest outbursts can induce currents in electricity networks that overload equipment and cause power outages.

Mark Gibbs, the head of space weather at the Met Office, told the BBC: "We're working with critical national infrastructure operators to protect UK PLC. Our forecasts will help those operators take measures to mitigate the risks, so that hopefully we don't see major problems occurring."

The National Grid is already using the service.


"In the case of floods, hurricanes and other natural hazards here on Earth, the last 25 years have seen a revolution in the understanding and management of risk, thanks to science and computer modelling.

"Space weather is one of those emerging risk areas where we now need to make similar advances."

Dedicated eyes

A key concern for the future is the continuation of the important tools that gather the data for the forecasts. Some are ageing.

One major provider is the Soho spacecraft that sits about 1.5 million km from Earth and stares constantly at the Sun.

"Ten to 15 years is tops for a spacecraft and Soho will be 20 next year," observed Mike Hapgood, a space weather expert with the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

"We have ideas for future instruments with the European Space Agency, and we're also developing new radio astronomy techniques that we believe can help."

The Airbus Group has a concept for what would be a dedicated space weather mission called Carrington.

This would trail the Earth in its orbit around the Sun, employing a range of instruments to pick up solar activity before it causes problems on Earth.


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