Space weather forecasters at the 55th Space Weather Squadron, Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., are monitoring a severe solar radiation storm that is effecting some satellite operations.
"A flare erupted from the sun (Nov. 8)," said Tech. Sgt. Robert Joyce, crew chief and space weather forecaster. "This event was so energetic that many of our sensing instruments were saturated moments after the flare erupted."
A number of space weather forecast products, including an initial warning, were sent to various Department of Defense agencies. "We issued a space weather advisory three minutes after we recorded the burst," Joyce said. "Since the onset, updated products have been sent out every three hours."
Capt. Kelly Law, a space weather officer here said there are typically three types of phenomena associated with flares of the sun. Light energy reaches Earth instantaneously and can impact high frequency communications. Next, high energy particles, called protons, reach Earth within minutes to hours and can damage satellites, increase radiation in higher altitudes and cause communication outages in the polar caps. Finally, lower energy particles, or electrons, reach Earth hours or days after the flare and cause geomagnetic storming and the aurora borealis.
"Our job is to forecast those events so our DOD customers can determine the impacts to their mission," said Law, in this case referring to the high altitude radiation forecast, which warns pilots flying at high altitudes of increased radiation levels. "Our sensors indicated high altitude radiation levels were elevated with this event.
"Geomagnetic storming peaked (Nov. 10), with particles continuing to impact the near-Earth environment," Law said.
Events, like this one, occur 18 to 20 times a year around the peak of the solar maximum. Space weather forecasters expect the solar maximum to take place in the next few months. This solar storm produced the fourth highest measured proton levels since monitoring began in 1978. The highest recorded proton event occurred in March 1991.
AFWA space weather forecasters analyze and forecast space weather conditions that can adversely affect satellite operations, communications, intelligence collection, GPS navigation, space tracking and high altitude human flight. (Courtesy of Air Force Weather Agency News Service)
The Nov. 8 eruption of the sun as seen in this coronagraph image, which allows analyzers to view the outer portion of the sun’s environment. (Courtesy photo)