Did you know there is weather in space?
The term “space weather” generally refers to conditions resulting from solar activity that can potentially affect Earth, our atmosphere, and the near-Earth space environment. Fortunately, our planet’s atmosphere and magnetic field helps protect us from the constant stream of radiation and charged particles emitted from the Sun. Unfortunately, occasional eruptions of radiation and matter can disrupt our power grids and communications systems, as well as impact satellite operations and GPS navigation capabilities. Plus, astronauts operating outside our planet’s protective atmosphere have to be very careful of exposure to the extra radiation, which can cause a variety of health problems.
Part of NOAA’s mission is to monitor space weather and provide timely, accurate warnings to help our nation prepare for and minimize potential impacts to the economy and to human health. The National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) develops and operates satellites and tools to collect information about solar phenomena before they reach Earth. NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) then uses this data to generate space weather forecasts, alerts, and warnings to the public and to customers in the US and around the globe who use this information to protect critical systems and reduce risks to personnel.
SWPC continuously monitors the Sun and the space environment around the Earth, using observations and measurements collected by instruments on satellites operated by NESDIS and partners like NASA as well as ground-based instruments operated by USAF, USGS, and international partners.
Five Things To Know About Space Weather
How do we monitor space weather?
NOAA’s space weather observing systems primarily involve the following instruments.
- The GOES-R satellites, which carry numerous instruments for solar imaging and space weather monitoring:
- The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite, which houses:
NOAA also collects space weather data from a variety of other sources, including NASA and international partners such as EUMETSAT, whose METOP satellites carry NOAA’s solar-monitoring Space Environmental Monitor (SEM-2) instrument.
Satellites must endure the incredibly harsh environment of space. As NOAA’s fleet ages, technology is also improving.
NOAA’s Space Weather Follow-On (SWFO) program consists of two projects that will ensure that the agency has the best and most reliable information about solar activity, detailed below.
- The SWFO-L1 satellite mission will use a suite of instruments to make in-situ measurements of the solar wind thermal plasma and magnetic field, as well as a Compact Coronagraph (CCOR) instrument to detect CMEs.
- The Ground Segment is comprised of an SWFO Antenna Network, a mission operations center for command and control of the SWFO-L1 Observatory, and a product generation-product distribution element.
- A new CCOR instrument will also be added to the GOES-U satellite's suite of instruments, the last iteration of the GOES-R series.
Further Reading on Space Weather/Activity
In 2017 and 2020, NOAA commissioned an economic benefit analysis report on the positive effects of space weather on the electric power and aviation industries, as well as global navigation. Read more about their findings below:
- August 2020- Economic Benefit Analysis of NOAA’s Space Weather Products and Services to the Electric Power Industry
- September 2017- Social and Economic Impacts of Space Weather in the United States
In March 2020 the Congressional Budget Office released a report that discusses a range of threats that could cause widespread, long-lasting disruptions for the electric grid.