By: Warren Qualley
Most of us know about meteorology which, according to the Oxford Dictionary (https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/), is defined as: The branch of science concerned with the processes and phenomena of the atmosphere, especially as a means of forecasting the weather. People also know weather which they define as: The state of the atmosphere at a place and time as regards heat, dryness, sunshine, wind, rain, etc. However, what most people don’t know is that there is something called space weather. Oxford Dictionary’s definition of space weather is: Conditions in the region of space close to the earth, especially the presence of electromagnetic radiation and charged particles emitted by the sun, that can affect human activity and technology.
So how did the “weather” get carried over into “space weather”? The short answer, at least in regard to aviation, can be found on a website from The American Meteorological Society (https://www.ametsoc.org/ams/index.cfm/policy/studies-analysis/space-weather-and-aviation/) which states, in part, “the conditions on the Sun and in the solar wind, magnetosphere, ionosphere, and thermosphere that can influence the performance and reliability of space-borne and ground-based technological systems and can endanger human life or health.”
It’s amazing how weather activities outside our atmosphere, can affect us. Even though earth’s weather forecast might seem clear, threats can still be out there. The three main hazards to aviation from space weather include disruption in High Frequency (HF) communications, satellite navigation system errors, and radiation hazards to humans and avionics. Fortunately, there is some predictability to these events. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, CO, monitors solar activity and issues outlooks, forecasts and warnings of events. To mitigate the effects of the three hazards when they are predicted or present, airlines avoid high latitude routes (e.g. cross-polar) and higher altitudes.
Monitoring and predicting space weather is a high priority for the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations body, which establishes the rules for global aviation. The World Meteorological Organization provides scientific input into this process as well, and those involved in all aspects of aviation continue to make flying safer from the effects of space weather.
Social media Summary: Almost all of us have heard of weather, but not everyone knows about space weather! Learn a little bit about the amazing nature of space weather, and how it can impact us here on earth.