Scientists use volunteered info to counter solar storm

Scientists use volunteered info to counter solar storm

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UK: Scientists at Royal Observatory in Greenwich (ROG) have used data analysed by the volunteers to predict that the solar storm may hit Earth at 7.32am on Monday (December 20, 2010). It may have potential to knock out power grids and interfere with communication satellites. It could also upset GPS navigation systems, pose a health risk to astronauts on the International Space Station and cause widespread disruption on the planet.

But scientists say there’s not too much too worry about – and point out that instead of fretting over the potential havoc we should enjoy the “beautiful” displays of the Northern and Southern Lights as they collide with the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

The storms are caused by solar wind, when magnetic fields hurl billions of tonnes of storm energy from the Sun’s surface into the atmosphere.

For the first time, scientists have used data analysed by the volunteers. The initiative, launched by the ROG, makes it possible for anyone with an internet connection to get involved in the latest solar research by helping to spot and track storms as they erupt from the surface of the Sun.

This enables scientists to forecast the arrival of storms far enough in advance to issue warnings.

Dr Marek Kukula, Public Astronomer at the ROG, said, “Solar Stormwatch is special in that it harnesses public interest in astronomy to provide data that is invaluable to scientists.

“The more people that take part in ‘stormwatching’ the more we will learn, and the fact that the volunteers’ work has now enabled us to predict when a storm will hit Earth is a significant milestone, not just for the project, but for science as a whole.”

Source: The Telegraph