Predicting space weather: why is it important and how to do it

2018 edition

Nicolas Wijsen

The Sun is a highly dynamical object, producing energetic phenomena like bright solar flares and violent eruptions called coronal mass ejections (CMEs). During these eruptions, the Sun hurls a billion-ton cloud of hot plasma into interplanetary space. When this cloud evolves in the solar atmosphere and the heliosphere, it drives a strong shock wave which acts as a powerful accelerator of charged particles in the inner solar system. Some of these particles, known as solar energetic particles (SEPs), may strike our planet where they can disrupt radio communication, damage satellites, and endanger the life of astronauts among other effects. That is why it is important to understand and predict the ever-changing environmental conditions in outer space due to solar storms – the Space Weather.

In this talk I will start by introducing the solar eruptive events that are considered to be the main drivers of Space Weather, i.e., solar flares, coronal mass ejections and solar energetic particles. I will then continue by briefly discussing the possible damaging effects of solar storms on our high-tech modern society. In doing so, I will illustrate the need for the development of accurate space weather forecasting tools. Since the development of such a tool is one the main objectives of my PhD,  I will conclude the talk by showing some realisations of the space weather forecasting tool that I  am currently working with.