Science and Technology Facilities Council
Space Weather threats being discussed at international summit in London
The threats posed by severe space weather to electronic systems and devices on Earth are being addressed this week at an international summit hosted by leading UK researchers from the Met Office, the Government Office for Science and the Science and Technology Facilities Council.
STFC is a global leader in this field of research where the threats posed by severe space weather to electronic systems and devices on Earth could have severe economic and infrastructure costs. The significance of this hazard has been emphasised by the inclusion of severe space weather in the UK National Risk Register (NRR) since 2012.
The London event will include contributions from NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) and will discuss future space missions that would enable us to see what is happening in regions of the Sun that are rotating to face the Earth, predict and track ejections of hot gas and therefore better predict space weather that could disrupt Earth-based electronics.
The aim of the workshop is to significantly advance discussions on how a dedicated satellite mission to the so-called L5 (Lagrange 5) point, a position of gravitational balance some 150 million kilometres from Earth, will improve space-weather forecasts, especially in combination with a mission to the L1 (Lagrange 1) point, replacing the aging SOHO satellite. A key goal is also to explore how the UK, US and other countries in Europe and around the world can work together to deliver this mission.
Professor Mike Hapgood, Head of Space Weather at STFC RAL Space, highlights the importance of holding a workshop for an international audience: “Space weather is a global threat and one to which the UK is particularly vulnerable because of our worldwide trading links. So I am delighted that this meeting will encourage the L5 (Lagrange 5) mission and other international efforts needed to deal with this threat.”
Head of Space Situational Awareness at European Space Agency (ESA), Nicolas Bobrinsky, will address the workshop on the first day, on the international state of play on developing space weather missions.
Representatives from NASA and NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) will address the workshop in sessions to be held later in the week along with UK representatives from institutes such as The Met Office, UK Space Agency, STFC, Imperial College London and Mullard Space Science Laboratory.
Mark Gibbs, the UK Met Office’s Head of Space Weather said, "An operational mission to L5 will fill a gap in our observing capability that will significantly improve our forecasting of Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) that threaten critical technological infrastructure around the globe. Although the UK has driven the requirement for an L5 mission over the last few years, the mission’s planning, execution and efficient use will be an international effort. This meeting in London is an important opportunity for the international community to confirm their requirements and advance ideas ahead of the next critical planning phase."
The workshop is supported by a collaborative team including STFC, The Met Office and Go Science (Government Office for Science) and is being organised by STFC, The Met Office and the US Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC, part of NOAA).
STFC is leading the worldwide dialogue on space weather, with researchers and the general public. In 2015, STFC created a space weather report to gauge public understanding of space weather and its effects, and counter common misconceptions about the phenomenon. The results of this project have been vital in leading government policymaking on the topic.
STFC has also been leading the conversation within academia, by hosting talks and lectures on the subject to peers across the world and encouraging a collaborative approach to research. Most recently, STFC has funded CHIPiR, a pioneering neutron instrument designed to test how silicon microchips respond to cosmic neutron radiation caused by space weather.
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Note to Editors:
What are Lagrange points?
These are five points in space close to which an object, such as a spacecraft or an asteroid, can remain in a stable or quasi-stable position relative to two larger bodies such as the Sun and the Earth. The Sun-Earth Lagrange points have already played an important role in space science. The Lagrange 1 (L1) point, 1.5 million kilometres sunward of the Earth, has been used for space weather science missions since the 1970s, and is currently home to important space weather missions such as SOHO and DCOSVR. The Lagrange 2 (L2) point, 1.5 million kilometres anti-sunward of the Earth, is a great place for astronomical observations; it was home for ESA’s Herschel mission and NASA’s
James Webb Space Telescope will be placed there in a few years’ time. The L3, L4 and L5 points lie on Earth’s orbit around the Sun, with L3 directly behind the Sun, and the L4 and L5 sixty degrees away from the Earth. The L3 point has no practical use since radio signals are blocked by the Sun, but the L4 and L5 points are great places to observe the Sun from a different angle whilst having good radio links to Earth. L4 precedes Earth in its orbit around the Sun, whilst L5 follows the Earth. These five points are named after Joseph-Louis Lagrange who published the first extensive description of these points, back in 1772.
Lagrange point graphics
The following files are available under Creative Commons licences:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lagrange_points_simple.svg Simple diagram of the L1 to L5 points
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lagrange_points2.svg More scientific diagram outlining the gravitational potentials around each of the L1 to L5 points.
STFC RAL Space
Scientists from STFC RAL space, will participate in the workshop, in particular in terms of the department’s endeavours in developing some of the key payloads for a future space weather mission.
- Dr Jackie Davies and Professor Richard Harrison will discuss RAL Space’s development of the key instruments for the Lagrange missions that directly imaging CMEs, from launch to arrival at Earth, which stems from their lead role in instrumentation on NASA’s STEREO mission.
- Dr Yulia Bogdanova will present her lead role in the development of miniaturized radiation sensors, which are critical instruments for detecting the hazardous high-energy particles that can be associated both directly with CMEs and with their effect on the near-Earth environment.
- Dr Mario Bisi will detail his coordinating role in the exploitation of ground-based radio telescopes to support the monitoring of space weather phenomena undertaken from space.
These feed into global efforts to model space weather, at Earth and elsewhere, that are being disseminated, not least, by ESA’s Heliospheric expert centre hosted by RAL Space.
STFC’s ChipIR instrument:
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