Space weather researchers need detailed impact data

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SAN FRANCISCO – Researchers seeking to improve space weather forecasting need detailed information on the impact of previous space weather events from airplane, power grid and satellite operators, according to a panel of experts speaking at the virtual American Geophysical Union fall meeting.

“One of the impediments to being able to do good space weather is to know what the impacts are,” said Alexa Jean Halford, a space weather physicist working at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “Sometimes industry doesn’t want to share when they have problems. If we can find out what type of space weather phenomenon are affecting their ability to use their satellites, communications or power grids that would help us to target our research better and to develop tools.”

In certain cases, companies and government agencies share information with researchers in an effort to help them improve space weather forecasting tools. The Aerospace Corp., for example, shared information on single event upsets for its own satellites with Aerospace Corp. researchers. Similarly, Spanish power companies shared data with researchers who were creating a tool to predict geomagnetically induced currents.

At other times, however, companies and government agencies are reluctant to disclose that information. Years ago, a solar flare disrupted GPS data, causing ghostly images to appear in aviation navigation systems. Researchers knew there was a problem but “it was extremely difficult to get any information for several years,” said Jasmina Magdalenic, a scientist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium’s Solar Influences Data analysis Center. “This was a huge event. There are also smaller events where we obtain no information at all.”

Government agencies and companies may be hesitant to publicize data that could reveal issues or vulnerabilities within their networks or systems.

To obtain access to the data, space weather researchers need to develop a relationship with the people affected by space weather and convince them that researchers want to understand their concerns and help them, Halford said.