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How SPACECAST Works


The Mysteries of Space Weather
An image of the sun captured on April 2, 2001, by the Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (EIT) during the biggest solar flare ever recorded.
An image of the sun captured on April 2, 2001, by the Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (EIT) during the biggest solar flare ever recorded.
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Besides protecting assets on and above Earth, SPACECAST will push scientific research. There is much we don't know about space weather. The gaps in our knowledge make it difficult to prepare for solar events.

Take coronal mass ejections (CMEs). These events occur when the sun shoots out enormous amounts of mass. They often coincide with particularly large solar flares but we don't fully understand the relationship between the two. A CME can push electrons, protons and heavy nuclei from the sun at speeds approaching the speed of light. Electrons, boosted by energy due to the intense heat of the sun, travel along magnetic field lines. If the CME faces Earth, those electrons can hit us in a shock wave well before the loop generated by the CME hits us.

Scientists want to learn more about CMEs and why they occur. We need further studies to determine exactly where and how they form on the sun. It's also important to learn why particles from different types of CME events travel at different speeds. Only by knowing these details can we create an effective warning system.

Not every CME results in a geomagnetic storm here on Earth. That means we need to learn what factors feed into the types that do affect us so that we can differentiate between a harmless event and one that could cause headaches here at home.

Another area of scientific study is the behavior of the Earth's magnetosphere. It's difficult to create experiments that give us meaningful data -- most of our knowledge comes from direct observation. As a result, there's much we don't understand about the Earth's magnetic field, particularly when it's influenced by space weather.

That's just the tip of the iceberg as far as scientific studies go. But the scientists working on SPACECAST hope to investigate these mysteries and design systems capable of providing us useful information in the event of potentially dangerous space weather. Without this knowledge, all we can expect are semi-educated guesses.


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