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SPACE WEATHER 101
01.01.08

Ever wonder what causes those really cool colored lights you can see at the North and South poles? Or how about why sometimes your radio or cell phone won't work in a location it normally does? Well it's all thanks to space weather.

Our closest star the Sun is an extremely active star and is constantly bombarding the solar system with huge amounts of energy and radiation. These clouds of plasma and energetic particle hurl themselves through the solar system pounding anything and everything in their way. The day-to-day condition of the environment in space is known as space weather.

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Quiet Sun
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Active Sun

This energy and radiation can be quite harmful. Luckily for us we are protected from most of it by the Earth's atmosphere. It is the interaction between the Solar Wind and the Earth's magnetosphere that causes the beautiful auroras, which can be seen at the North and South Pole. The energy produced by the Sun is also what is necessary for life on Earth. It provides all the heat and light we need to survive. However, these solar storms can also have negative effects. The ultraviolet rays that are able to penetrate our Earth's atmosphere are what cause our skin to burn if we stay too long in the Sun without protection. Outside of the Earth's protective atmosphere, astronauts and satellites become very vulnerable to the Sun's effects.

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Aurora Borealis
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Aurora Australis
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Aurora from space

Effects on Astronauts

Outside the protective atmosphere of the Earth, astronauts are subject to much higher doses of radiation than they would otherwise normally receive. Space walks are rescheduled and delayed during a Solar Storm watch so that Astronauts stay within the protection of the shuttle or space station.

Effects on Satellites

Satellites can build up an electrical charge much like when you rub your rubber soles on a carpet. At some point the electrical build-up must discharge. Ever get one of those dreaded shocks from a metal doorknob? Yup, you got it... electrical discharge. These discharges can cause data to be lost or corrupted, satellite components to fail and sometimes even lead to a complete satellite failure and loss. Satellites are also sensitive to radiation hazards. Increased exposure to radiation during a solar storm can damage solar panels making them unable to store as much power allowing the satellite batteries to run down much quicker. Solar Storms also cause the Earth's atmosphere to expand causing increased drag on satellites in low Earth Orbit. This increased drag can cause them to fall out of orbit and if not corrected, can cause satellites to prematurely re-enter the Earth's Atmosphere and burn up.


SPACE WEATHER LINKS

Some of the coolest space weather links under the sun! Answers to all your space weather questions and some really cool games to play!

Learn about plasmas, living with a star, our protective sheild, solar storms and current space weather research all the while playing some really cool games!
+ http://www.spaceweathercenter.org/

Get Smart about Space Weather! Written by the staff of NOAA's Space Environment Center, this site provides a broad view of the entire Sun-Earth environment, with a particular focus on space weather. SPANISH language version is also available.
+ http://www.sec.noaa.gov/primer/primer.html

The NASA Space Weather Bureau. Science news and information about the Sun-Earth environment. News, forecasts and trivia.
+ http://spaceweather.com