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Predicting space weather can allow for the prevention of damage to the sensitive satellite infrastructure that orbits Earth.
Roger Dube, professor in the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science at Rochester Institute of Technology, is developing an early warning system for space weather storms on Earth. His NASA-funded research initially focused on the protection of future Mars colonists.
"My original space weather project was oriented toward the colonization of Mars," Dube says. "Because I've had to step back and look at the data on Earth, we've come to realize that there is a big problem even here in terms of our potential sensitivity to severe space weather storms. I think the level of awareness has increased because we're seeing more data that says this is not that rare an event."
During a space storm, the equivalent of hurricane-force gusts flow through interplanetary space carrying X-rays and particles emitted from solar flares and coronal mass ejections-high-energy explosions on the surface of the sun.
Dube and his team of seven students have developed a neural network that digests the massive amount of data taken from different types of variables, such as electricity and magnetism, to better predict when a storm will occur. They are also analyzing features on the sun for use in predicting storms and linking activity on the sun (such as sunspots) with other types of impacts on Earth (such as the Aurora Borealis and radio storms).
"What's happening is that we're able to recognize these precursors in this data that are within half a day of the event. That's good, but we'd really like to have it several days in advance so that we could do something about it," Dube says. "For example, with enough warning we can turn our satellites away from the sun so they don't get hurt by the particles that hit them as the storm passes."