The world's first space weather forecasting system is about to go into operation.
The Center for Integrated Space Weather Modeling (CISM) is expected to giveforecasters a one-to-four day advance warning of high-speed streams of solar plasma and Earth-directed coronal mass ejections (CMEs).
These phenomena can severely disrupt or damage space- and ground-based communications systems and threaten satellite operations.
"It's very exciting to pioneer a path from research to operations in space weather," says Jeffrey Hughes, director of CISM and professor of astronomy at Boston University. "The science is having a real impact on the practical problem of predicting when 'solar storms' will affect us here on Earth."
The development comes in response to fears that global communications infrastructure and other sensitive technologies could be threatened by severe space weather disruptions. Even underground pipelines can be affected, as a current can be induced which leads to incorrect flow information and increases corrosion.
And with the sun approaching solar maximum, the danger of such events is increasing.
"This milestone is important scientific progress and underscores the effectiveness of NSF's Science and Technology Centers in applying research results to real-world problems," says Robert Robinson of NSF's Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, which funds CISM.
CISM team members worked on-site with scientists and forecasters at NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center to improve the models and visualizations. The system combines data from a number of sources including solar observations and models of the solar wind and CME propagation.