Update: Met Office keeping a close eye on space weather

17 05 2013

Updated on 20th May 2013

The recent activity on the Sun has now decreased back to levels we would normally expect at this point in time, close to a maximum of the 11-year solar cycle.

This follows a period where a sunspot, identified as 1748, emitted a number of powerful solar flares which were directed away from Earth.

There was a concern that another eruption from 1748 would be more directly aimed at Earth as it moved round with the Sun’s rotation. However, 1748 has reduced in size and has seen no significant activity for more than 48 hours.

While the risk of impacts on Earth has decreased, it is still possible that high levels of activity will re-emerge from 1748 while it is facing Earth. The Met Office will continue to monitor the situation.

Mark Gibbs, Head of Space Weather at the Met Office, said: “This sunspot was particularly active last week, sending out one solar flare which was the largest measured for over a year. Fortunately its eruptions were not directed at Earth and we saw very minimal impacts.

“We have observed a decrease in the spot’s activity in the past couple of days and, while a risk remains, we are now at a normal level of activity for this point in the solar cycle.”

 

Previous updates:

Updated on 17th May 2013

As per our blog article published yesterday, the Met Office continues to closely monitor the Sun following a recent surge in its activity related to a sunspot (identified by the number 1748).

This morning saw a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), which is an eruption of electromagnetically charged gas (plasma), from the sunspot. The CME is due to catch Earth with a glancing blow which is not expected to cause any significant impacts.

There remains a low risk through to the end of next week that we could see a CME from 1748 which is aimed more directly at Earth, but after that the risk is expected to diminish.

We’ll continue to monitor the situation closely and provide updates if there are any changes.





Met Office keeping a close eye on space weather

16 05 2013

The Met Office will be keeping a close eye on the Sun over the coming days after a recent surge in its activity.

It’s fairly common for eruptions from the Sun (often called “space weather”) to occur, and these are usually associated with sunspots – dark areas of intense activity on the surface of the star.

The eruptions from these spots come in several different forms, but if the events are of sufficient strength and directed towards the Earth, they can all cause impacts on our modern-day technology. Impacts range from minor interference to communication networks to temporary disruption to electricity supply, satellites and GPS navigation.

Over the past few days a sunspot, identified by the number 1748, has been the cause of many solar eruptions which have already caused some minor impacts.

NASA image showing a solar flare from sunspot 1748

NASA image showing one of the recent solar flares ejecting from sunspot 1748

Some of the eruptions have been in the form of Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), which are plumes of electromagnetically charged gas (plasma). These have been focused away from Earth so far, but, as the sun rotates, there is a chance the sunspot could emit a CME in our direction.

Mark Gibbs, Head of Space Weather at the Met Office, said: “If a strong CME were to be directed at Earth it could have some disruptive impacts, but at the moment the probability of this happening appears to be low.

“We’ll be keeping a close watch on the situation, particularly from Friday evening onwards, to advise on anything that could cause disruption to help the UK minimise any potential impacts. Hopefully this event will pass without the majority of people noticing, but it’s important we monitor the risk.”

Since February 2011, the Met Office has been working with a range of partners, including the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the UK Space Agency to develop a UK-based space weather forecasting service.

This monitors the Sun’s activity and then predicts how these changes are likely to affect the Earth’s environment. The Met Office Hazard Centre currently has forecasters trained in space weather forecasting, and awareness is being raised across different industry sectors to make them aware of their potential vulnerability and how we can help lessen the risks.

In the event of a CME, space weather monitoring can provide anything from 17 hours to 3 days advance warning – allowing vital time to prepare.

Solar activity is currently expected to be high as we are near the peak of an 11-year solar cycle, which sees the Sun’s activity increase and decrease over the period.

You can see more about space weather forecasting in our Youtube video.





2nd International Space Apps Challenge at Exeter

24 04 2013

NASA Space Apps Challenge

Over the weekend, the Met Office hosted the NASA led International Space Apps Challenge. Months of planning and challenge selection culminated in a global event with over 480 organisations and more than 9,000 people taking part in 83 cities.The Met Office hosted events at the Met Office headquarters in Exeter and Google Campus in London, which saw over 150 participants work on challenges using open data.

Teams at the event in Exeter participated in a number of challenges including the Arduhack challenge which looked at extending the functionality of the ArduSat with a Raspberry Pi computer and steerable web camera to send images of the Earth to mobile phones.

The judges were extremely impressed by the collaboration of the teams and the progress made on all of the challenges. The two winning solutions, decided by a panel of judges from, Mubaloo, Dundee University and Tangerine Bee, were WebRover1 and Arduhack. These will now be judged against other winning challenges globally, with winners announced a week after the event.

Mark Mason, CEO of Mubaloo said: “We are delighted to have been able to judge at the NASA Space Apps Challenge for the second year in a row. The challenge has again highlighted how much can be achieved in such a short space of time with teams working together using crowdsourcing and open source data. We’d like to wish the winning teams from Exeter best of luck in the global judging.”





Weather satellite set for launch

17 09 2012

Metop-B, the second of the EUMETSAT Polar orbiting satellites, which provide data for use by meteorologists and climate scientists at the Met Office and around the world, will be launched today.

Metop-B is scheduled to be launched by a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, at 17:28 BST and once in orbit will collect critical data for weather forecasters, such as the Met Office.

Using satellites to help create weather forecasts

Along with its partner satellite Metop-A, it will orbit the earth from pole to pole at an altitude of around 800 km, taking measurements including temperature, humidity and  cloud properties, as well as snow and ice cover, sea surface temperature and land vegetation.

All of this data is fed into the Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) models that produce our weather forecasts up to 10 days ahead. NWP is the basis of all modern global and regional weather forecasting, providing forecast advice, severe weather warnings and other support to public and private decision making.

Information from the Metop satellites has become indispensible to weather forecasters. A recent study by the Met Office demonstrated that Metop-A observations contribute close to 25% of the performance of numerical weather prediction (NWP) forecasts.

The data gathered by Metop have revolutionised the way the Earth’s weather, climate and environment are monitored, both in the short term and in monitoring climate over decade-long data series of temperature, humidity, cloud cover and atmospheric gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrogen dioxide.

David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science said: “I welcome the launch of Metop B which will enable the Met Office to stay at the forefront of weather forecasting and climate monitoring. I am also very pleased that a crucial piece of onboard instrumentation, the microwave humidity sounder, was built and designed in the UK, demonstrating our leading role in this area of technology.”

You can watch a live stream of the launch of Metop-B at http://www.livestream.com/metop from 15:30 BST  this afternoon.

You can also read the transcript of the  twitterview between the Met Office and EUMETSAT that was held last week.





NASA Space Apps Challenge – Growers Nation

17 04 2012

This weekend will see the Met Office linking up with sites across the world for the NASA International Space Apps Challenge.

Challenges from Met Office employees have been accepted, including Growers Nation submitted by Selena Georgiou a Radar Products Scientist.

Grower’s Nation is an app to determine what produce to grow and when given the soil type and current seasonal conditions

This app aims to get more people around the world involved and enthusiastic about growing produce sustainably. This would be done by using the available space in their gardens, school or university grounds or work places that are not currently being used to their potential. This would be displayed on a map that enables people to see quickly and easily when the optimal time for planting seeds is in their local area, and what can be planted, dependent on local soil type.

The eventual aim is to make it an interactive app, with local produce growing enthusiasts contributing to a database of easily accessible and categorised tips and advice resulting from their gardening experiences.

The development of this app will make use of a range of data including climatology, short and longer term weather forecasts, soil type, soil moisture measurements and satellite derived evapotranspiration.





Northern Lights over the UK

24 01 2012
Aurora Borealis (231574247)

Guest blog: Sarah Reay, British Geological Survey

Many people in the UK were treated to a fine display of the northern lights (aurora borealis) on Sunday night. This was seen widely throughout Scotland and the north of England. There is a chance for further auroral displays tonight or tomorrow night if we are lucky.

The Northern Lights are a result of a geomagnetic storm. These storms are short-lived periods of high geomagnetic activity where the Earth’s magnetic field changes very quickly and strong electric currents flow high in the atmosphere.

The geomagnetic storm is a consequence of activity on the surface of the Sun. Occasionally there are large explosions on the Sun, and huge amounts of charged particles are thrown out into space. These particles sometimes travel towards Earth where they are captured by the Earth’s magnetic field and guided towards the geomagnetic polar regions. On their way down these particles are slowed down by Earth’s atmosphere, which acts as a shield. These charged particles collide with gas molecules in the atmosphere. The energy released in these collisions is given off as light.

Geomagnetic storms follow the 11-year solar cycle. As we are heading towards the next solar maximum, due in 2013, the chance of big magnetic storms is on the increase. On average you might expect to see aurora in the far north of Scotland every few months, but less often as you travel further south.

To view the Northern Lights you are best finding a dark place away from street lights. You will need a cloud-free sky. In general, look to the north although it could be overhead or elsewhere. For your best chance of sighting an aurora, try to look during the hours around local midnight (22:00-02:00). However geomagnetic activity can happen at any time!

You can sign-up to receive alerts from the British Geological Survey when there is a chance for aurora activity. Unfortunately cloud is predicted for most of the UK tonight, but there is a much better chance for Wednesday night onwards. Keep an eye on the Met Office forecasts for the latest information.

* Many thanks to Sarah Reay of the British Geological Survey for the above guest blog. As a side note, people may be interested to know that solar storms can have other impacts on our planet – such as affecting telecommunication systems. The Met Office is developing a space weather forecasting system to give early warnings of events. As part of this, we are working in collaboration with the US’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to develop the service.








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