Stunning 3D imagery allows solar flare warnings

Tuesday 15th Feb 2011 by theWeather Club

Following the success of a recent Nasa mission to provide three dimensional images of the sun and the material it throws out into space, the British scientists who developed the cameras used on the space agency’s probes are working on plans to create a flotilla of similar spacecraft designed to provide early warnings of major solar explosions. Known as coronal mass ejections, these explosions are expected to become more frequent and more violent over the next decade as the activity of the sun, currently awakening from something of a slumber, rapidly increases.

Solar explosions can play havoc with electronic devices, so could cause huge problems for important satellites and, potentially, for the smooth functioning of everyday life here on our increasingly technology-dependent planet. Scientists from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire are working with the European Space Agency, the UK government and Nasa to look at possible ways of using the technology utilised in the Nasa STEREO probes to help mitigate against the dangers posed by these explosions. “We have proved that we can use the information we were getting from STEREO to make predictions,” Professor Richard Harrison told The Telegraph. “We can see these clouds leaving the sun, travelling through space and make predictions about whether they are going to hit the earth and the impact they may have. The impacts can be quite significant and more so as we become more dependent on technology that is based in space, where the material from these ejections can interfere and knock out satellites altogether.”

The orbit required of the proposed probes is an awkward one, so a large number of spacecraft would be needed in order to ensure that two of them are in position at all times to send back the stereoscopic images from which accurate forecasts can be extrapolated. It is hoped that these craft would be able to provide a 12-15 hour warning of major ejections from the sun and several days’ notice of smaller solar events.