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Computer predicts impact of solar storms

Solar Storms
Explosions on the surface of the sun cause solar storms, which can disrupt radio signals, and cause electrical power blackouts and surges in oil pipelines.  

November 4, 1999
Web posted at: 11:55 a.m. EST (1655 GMT)

By Environmental News Network staff

A powerful computer has come to the aid of astrophysicists on a quest to predict the impact solar storms will have on communications satellites and power supplies, British scientists reported Wednesday.

Explosions on the surface of the sun cause solar storms that stream out into space, sometimes in the direction of Earth. The storms affect the magnetic composition of the ionosphere, which in turn disrupts radio signals, causes electrical power blackouts and surges in oil pipelines.

As well, the heat from solar storms causes the Earth's atmosphere to expand. On occasion, low orbiting satellites "re-enter" the expanded atmosphere and burn up.

"Using this new computer we are able to develop models that can be used to warn telecom network operators,
Heliospheric Observatory satellite
When the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory satellite observes an Earth-bound storm, the computer models take over and predict its impact.  
power suppliers and radio operators about the effects of solar storms - they can then take action to minimize damage," said Alan Aylward, a researcher at the United Kingdom's Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, in a statement.

The computer, named MIRACLE (Multi-Institutional Research Astrophysics Computing), can perform 15 billion calculations a second and was developed by scientists at the research council.

When the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, a research satellite jointly operated by the European Space Agency and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, observes an Earth-bound solar storm, the computer models take over to predict its impact.

The computer also makes it possible to investigate how stars and planetary systems form and predict the fate of giant stars several times hotter than the sun, the scientists report. It also enables to the astrophysicists to model other planets.

"It used to take seven Earth days to model one Jupiter day, MIRACLE should allow us to run models in 'real time,'" said Steve Miller, a research center scientist. "It will also let us model the giant planets that have been discovered orbiting nearby stars, which leads us into whole new areas of research."

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council
Solar and Heliospheric Observatory
Space Weather
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