23 Feb 2010 – the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, in partnership with Zooniverse and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, today launched Solar Stormwatch. This exciting web project allows anyone to help spot explosions on the Sun and track them across space to Earth. If you get involved your
work will help give astronauts an early warning if dangerous solar radiation
is headed their way – and you could make a new scientific discovery.
Solar Stormwatch uses archive and near real-time data from NASA’s STEREO mission, a pair of spacecraft orbiting the Sun. Each spacecraft carries a Heliospheric Imager (HI) containing two cameras, creating a massive field of view stretching across the 150 million km from the Sun back to the Earth. Mission volunteers will be looking at these images to spot huge explosions from the Sun’s surface – these are the solar storms, or more technically Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs). These storms throw out about a billion tons of hot solar gases at a million miles an hour, representing a serious radiation hazard to both spacecraft and astronauts. They can knock out communication satellites, disrupt sat nav and mobile phone networks and damage power lines. Solar Stormwatch will help minimise this disruption by providing real-time alerts to those in the firing line, such as the crew of the International Space Station.
Multiple volunteers will look at each batch of STEREO data, and and if several independently confirm an interesting find it will be flagged up to a solar scientist.
Chris Davis, one of the solar scientists on the project team, says: “With your help, we can analyse many more events and do so in a way that
is free of the subjective bias introduced by one person sat in his
office making arbitrary decisions… Together we can use STEREO images to learn what it takes to
make an accurate forecast of space weather conditions. Space
exploration will always be a risky business but with an accurate
space-weather forecast, astronauts will have one less thing to be
worrying about as they leave the relative safety of Earth orbit and
start to explore our solar system.”
You can get involved now at www.solarstormwatch.com
Images: Artist’s impression of the deployment of the STEREO spacecrafts’ solar panels (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory); Coronal mass ejection taken by the SOHO spacecraft, 2002 (SOHO, NASA and ESA)