Keeping a weather eye on space

An aurora seen from space shuttle Discovery in 1991.

An aurora seen from space shuttle Discovery in 1991. Aurorae occur when charged particles from space get caught in Earth's magnetic field and spiral into the atmosphere.

The University of Sydney’s School of Physics, together with Australia’s space weather agency IPS Radio and Space Services, have been awarded a 2010 Australian Research Council Linkage grant of $360,000 to fund space weather prediction via automated data analysis systems over the next three years.

The project will build world-recognised capabilities in forecasting space weather events at Earth ensuring protective measures can be taken for any forthcoming space exploration.

It leverages the new Automated Radio Burst Identification System developed by the University’s physicists Dr Vasili Lobzin, Professor Iver Cairns and Professor Peter Robinson.

Space weather is an umbrella term for the conditions in space near the Earth, and includes the study of magnetic fields, charged particles and radiation. The Sun is a major contributor to space weather, blowing a continual wind of particles into the Solar System.

The awakening Sun

Professor Iver Cairns said the funding would help identify and analyse solar drivers of space weather and modelling interplanetary space.

“With our reliance on satellites, space stations and robotic space probes, this funding will help astronomical and space scientists gain a better understanding of space weather conditions and how these impact on space equipment and even space exploration,” he said.

“The project will enhance Australia’s human capital and its role in global space efforts.”

“With the Sun awakening from a long solar minimum and Australia increasingly dependent on space-based technology we do need to have a better understanding of what’s happening in space.”

Professor Peter Robinson said the funding would help Australia’s scientific standing.

“Funding space weather prediction will definitely help strengthen our expertise and infrastructure in space science, complex systems, and multiple fields of physics,” he said.

“Better space weather predictions will increase the utility of services by IPS Radio and Space Services to customers in government, industry, and society. This will lead to better communications, more assured access to space services and reduced risks of damage to critical infrastructure.”

Adapted from information issued by the University of Sydney / NASA.

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