Understanding space weather and its impacts
News and News Releases
A new space weather model under development at Los Alamos National Laboratory could help give a 24-hour warning before a storm of charged particles from the sun bombards crucial satellites, potentially knocking them out of service.
Recent research has found that the Van Allen Belts change in shape under the influence of solar storms, and the belts look different depending on the energy levels of the particles being studied.
The sun is constantly sending out megatons of charged particles that could crash the world’s electrical grid. Greater understanding of space weather along with improvements to the grid should help us withstand these solar onslaughts.
If they’re big enough, sun burps muscle through those protective magnetic fields and create electrical currents in a section of Earth’s atmosphere called the ionosphere.
Geomagnetic storms lash across Earth after a coronal mass ejection sprays electrons, protons and other charged particles from the Sun. But the less frequent, more severe kind of space weather can fry technology and cripple energy infrastructure.
A new, first-of-its-kind space weather model reliably predicts space storms of high-energy particles that are harmful to many satellites and spacecraft orbiting in the Earth’s outer radiation belt.
The data gives researchers a treasure trove of measurements they can use to better understand space weather and how to protect critical infrastructure such as the nation’s satellites, aircraft, communications networks and navigation systems.
Observations from NASA’s Van Allen probes show the fastest, most energetic electrons in the inner radiation belt are much rarer and harder to find than expected. This is good news for orbiting spacecraft that can be damaged by radiation.
The shape of the two electron swarms 600 miles to more than 25,000 miles from the Earth’s surface, known as the Van Allen Belts, could be quite different than has been believed for decades.
Space Weather | February 2019
Yue Chen, Geoffrey D. Reeves, Xiangrong Fu, Michael Henderson
Relativistic electrons in Earth’s outer radiation belt present a hazardous radiation environment for spaceborne electronics. These electrons, with energies up to multiple megaelectron‐volt (MeV), manifest a highly dynamic and event‐specific nature due to the interplay of competing processes. Thus, developing a forecasting model for these electrons has long been a critical but challenging task for space community. Recent studies have demonstrated the vital roles of electron resonance with various wave modes; however, it remains difficult for diffusion radiation belt models to reproduce MeV electron behaviors during geomagnetic storms due to reasons such as large uncertainties in input parameters. This work designs a new model called PreMevE to reliably predict storm time changes of MeV electrons within the whole outer belt.
Space Weather | March 2017
D.L. Turner, G.D. Reeves, Et Al.
We present measurements of relativistic electrons (0.7–1.5 MeV) in the inner zone and slot region obtained by the Magnetic Electron and Ion Spectrometer (MagEIS) instrument on Van Allen Probes. The data presented are corrected for background contamination, which is primarily due to inner‐belt protons in these low‐L regions. We find that ∼1 MeV electrons were transported into the inner zone following the two largest geomagnetic storms of the Van Allen Probes era to date, the March and June 2015 events. As ∼1 MeV electrons were not observed in Van Allen Probes data in the inner zone prior to these two events, the injections created a new inner belt that persisted for at least 1.5 years. In contrast, we find that electrons injected into the slot region decay on much faster timescales, approximately tens of days.
Space Weather | January 2017
S.K. Morley, J.P. Sullivan, M.R. Carver, R.M. Kippen, R.H.W. Friedel, G.D. Reeves, M.G. Henderson
Since 2000, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Combined X‐ray and Dosimeter (CXD) and Burst Detector Dosimeter for Block II‐R (BDD‐IIR) instruments have been fielded on Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites. Today, 21 of the 31 operational GPS satellites are equipped with a CXD detector and a further 2 carry a BDD‐IIR. Each of these instruments measures a wide range of energetic electrons and protons. These data have now been publicly released under the terms of the Executive Order for Coordinating Efforts to Prepare the Nation for Space Weather Events. The specific goal of releasing space weather data from the GPS satellites is to enable broad scientific community engagement in enhancing space weather model validation and improvements in space weather forecasting and situational awareness.
The Perils of Space Weather
Because of the potential for space weather to so critically impact national security, Los Alamos National Laboratory has been studying it for decades, designing and building space-based sensors to detect emissions from potential nuclear events here on Earth and to study natural and man-made radiation in space.
Weathering the Worst Solar Storms
When the last really big solar storm hit in 1921, Earth’s magnetic field funneled a wave of electrically charged particles toward the ground, where they induced a current along telegraph lines and railroad tracks, setting to telegraph offices and train stations—and the fledgling electric grid went dark.
Space Weather Data Drop
Space weather data collected via instruments on GPS satellites has been made available to researchers for the first time. The instruments were developed at Los Alamos and ride aboard 23 of the nation’s more than 30 on-orbit GPS satellites. This data gives researchers a treasure trove of measurements that they can use to better understand how space weather works.