Northumbria University wins grant for project to forecast space weather more accurately

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A team of space weather experts from Northumbria University in the UK has been awarded more than £400,000 (US$565,000) to explore how to better predict conditions in near-Earth space.

Professor Clare Watt, a space plasma physicist from Northumbria’s department of mathematics, physics and electrical engineering, is leading the three-year Effects of Temporal Variability on Wave-Particle Interactions in Magnetospheric Plasma project, which aims to find a way of forecasting space weather more accurately.

Funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the project will combine spacecraft observations and samples of the atmosphere at different positions in near-Earth space, with numerical models which use that data to predict dangerous weather conditions.

“Understanding the near-Earth environment is a real challenge, but one we need to address, especially given our increasing use of satellites in everyday life and the focus on human space travel,” Professor Watt commented.

“Just as predicting storms here on Earth allows us to keep aircraft and passengers safe, predicting storms in space will allow us to ensure astronauts and satellites are protected from severe space weather events,” she added.

Professor Watt will work alongside post-doctoral research associate Dr Oliver Allanson. They will use data collected by NASA’s Van Allen Probes – two robotic spacecraft used to study the Van Allen radiation belts surrounding Earth between 2012 and 2019, measuring electromagnetic waves and energetic electrons.

They will also have access to high performance computing facilities and a state-of-the-art numerical model that will use the data collected to predict interactions between charged particles and the electromagnetic waves.

Professor Watt added, “For much of the time conditions in near-Earth space are mild, but the rare extreme events that do occur can be very dangerous. Because these events are so rare, we need something to help us understand them. Nobody has looked at this in the way we are proposing before – looking at variations in time rather than averages.

“By better understanding the radiation belt environment and its variability we can ensure we are better prepared here on Earth. This could change how we design spacecraft and satellites in future, how space exploration missions are planned and how we keep astronauts safe,” she concluded.

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Helen has worked for UKi Media & Events for more than a decade. She joined the company as assistant editor on Passenger Terminal World and has since progressed to become editor of five publications, covering everything from aviation, logistics and automotive to meteorology. She has a love for travel and property and has redeveloped three houses in three years. When she’s not editing magazines, she’s running around after her two boys and their partner in crime, Pete the pug.

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