Wednesday, May 25, 2022

$2.3 million NSF grant boosts UAH effort to predict damaging solar weather events

When large bursts of energy from the Sun envelop Earth, they can be so strong that a 2015 event weakened Earth’s protective magnetic field so much that it entered the atmosphere, leaving space station astronauts posed a threat to everything from electronics to delicate electronics and communication systems. ,

They are called coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and in 1989 they caused a nine-hour, systemwide electrical blackout in Canada, resulting in losses of some 19,400 milliwatts in Quebec. A similar incident today could result in economic losses of several million dollars. This is why space scientists are working to develop accurate space weather forecasting models to predict and track CME storms.

Now, a professor of space science at the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH) has received a four-year, $2.301 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to better understand and predict how CMEs affect energetics, Develop a comprehensive scientific model. particle radiation environments in the inner Solar System and Earth’s magnetosphere, and compare those results with measurements at Earth’s surface.

Dr. Gang Lee plansto make a coronal mass ejection forecasting tool openly accessible to the space weather community through a web interface.

Michael Mercier / UAH

The effort is expected to supply scientists with a new open-source tool that can measure space weather, says principal investigator (PI) Dr. Gang Lee, who is also a researcher at the Center for Space Plasma and Aeronomic Research (CSPAR) at UAH. will forecast. , a part of the University System of Alabama.

“Improved particle acceleration and transport will be added to two widely used models, the Space Weather Modeling Framework (SWMF) and the Heliosphere Model (IPATH),” says Dr. Lee.

“The existing gaps in SWMF and IPATH will be bridged by developing two new models – a machine learning-assisted CME model for the lower solar corona, and a particle tracing model for transport from the Lagrange L1 point to the magnetosphere,” he says.

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Co-PI Dr. Ying Xu, an assistant professor of space science at UAH and CSPAR researcher, will play a major role in helping researchers understand how energetic particles in the solar wind enter Earth’s magnetosphere and further precipitate onto Earth’s surface. as well as to develop an undergraduate level curriculum on magnetospheric physics.

Two other co-PIs at the University of Michigan, including 2015 UAH alumnus Dr. Lulu Zhao, Dr. Lee’s first doctoral student, would use the SWMF developed there to provide the background solar wind and CME propagation that would then be coupled. The iPATH model was developed at UAH by Dr. Li and his student, Dr. Junxiang Hu.

Using the proposed integrated model, scientists will gain the ability to simulate the propagation of solar energy particles (SEPs) from their launch during a CME until their signals are detected by ground-based neutron monitors, and Their effects on the galactic cosmic are accounted for. Rays.

Neutron monitor data from several ground-level enhancements and large SEP events during solar cycles 23 and 24 will be used to validate the modeling.

“An integrated SEP/Ground Coverage Ratio (SEP/GCR) forecasting tool will be made openly accessible to the space weather community via a web interface,” says Dr. Lee. Daily forecasts will be provided at an interval of eight hours.

Standard computers designed to increase their computational power, called the Beowulf Cluster, will be used at UAH and the University of Michigan for the heavy numerical simulations and observational comparisons needed to develop the new model.

The grant will also support an incoming UAH graduate student, and an early-career postdoctoral scholar fully involved in research and outreach efforts.

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The research has scientific implications that go far beyond just predicting the timing of the incoming solar CME on Earth.

“This research deals with particle acceleration and transport, which is not unique to our solar system,” says Dr. Lee. “We believe that similar processes occur in other solar systems. In fact, life on Earth may have originated from the collision of energetic protons with Earth’s atmosphere.”

In addition to being of great practical and financial importance on Earth, space meteorology provides scientists with a testing center for new ideas and models, Dr. Lee says.

“Space weather happens all the time and is waiting for scientists to find some underlying mechanism,” he says. “Revising your model by adding new modules and new ideas, and then seeing its successes can be an absolute delight. That’s what I found to be the most fascinating part of this research.”

Research funding comes through an NSF program with the acronym ANSWERS that is a real mouthful – advancing national space weather expertise and research toward the Social Resilience Program. It aims to bring together collaborative teams of solar and geo-space observers, theorists, modelers, experimenters, educators and computational experts to address some of the most challenging problems in solar and space physics and space weather.

ANSWERS aims to enable a deeper and transformative understanding of the dynamic, integrated Sun-Earth system and the solar and terrestrial drivers of space weather and their effects. In conjunction with forward-looking educational efforts, ANSWERS aims to advance the nation’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) expertise and build social resilience against the hazards of space weather.


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