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Center for Integrated Space Weather Modeling

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STC: Center for Integrated Space Weather Modeling  (Trustees of Boston University)

Research Focus & Anticipated Benefits

In 1958 researchers realized the space around the earth is not empty. All the various phenomena that exist or develop in that near-earth environment whose behavior and interactions directly affect the planet and human technologies on and in orbit around it make up space weather. The chief actors in the origin and development of space weather are the sun, the solar wind, and the earth. The details of space weather and how they relate to each other, interact, and what may cause specific phenomena, however, remain subjects of intense investigation.

Humanity has admired the aurora borealis for eons, and that dance of diaphanous color continues today, but its impact is more substantial. The black-out of the Hydro-Quebec electric power grid across eastern Canada, the disruption of most of the pager systems in the United States, and the loss of a telecommunications satellite designed for world service can all be attributed to the effects of space weather. Indeed, the web of modern life extends above the earth as well as across its surface, and increasingly depends on technologies vulnerable to space weather.

The welfare of satellites, communications and navigation systems, the electric power grid, and even pipelines underground are subject to space weather. At the Center for Integrated Space Weather Modeling (CISM), researchers are working to understand the dynamic earth-sun system and how it affects life and society in order to create a tool for space weather prediction. CISM has already developed a model that provides a warning 1-3 days before the potentially detrimental effects of huge ejections of mass from the Sun’s outer atmosphere known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs) reach the earth. Because of the importance of such forecasts to space weather consumers, NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center has recently selected this model for transition into formal forecast operations.

Education & Outreach

At CISM, education and scientific research are highly integrated. Furthermore, the Center is committed to increasing the diversity of participants in space weather research at all levels. CISM's goal is to involve historically underrepresented minorities and women in space weather research in numbers that are significant with respect to the current participation by such groups. To meet this goal, the Center pursues a six-part recruitment and retention agenda and is supporting the establishment of a viable space science program at Alabama A&M University, a leading producer African-American physics degrees.

CISM is building the foundation for the next generation of space science research by creating tight knit undergraduate and graduate student communities where expertise and career-long professional relationships are forged.

CISM also hosts a summer school aimed primarily at students entering graduate school in space or solar physics, or at the end of their first year of graduate study. Undergraduates, a high school teacher, and professionals entering the field have also benefited from attending. Over two weeks, the school provides an overview of the space environment, space weather hazards, and models that are used to understand, specify, and predict the space environment. Hands-on use of space weather models is a core component of the school.

For a younger audience, CISM contributes to grade 6-14 education and science literacy, both through targeted training for educators and high-visibility exhibits and information for the general public. These activities include the Solar Planetarium show; a Physics of Ham Radio course at Rice University; collaboration between the University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University, and the San Francisco Exploratorium; secondary curriculum development; and teacher workshops.

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  • model of solar corona
CISM simulates space weather events, using models of the solar corona.
Center for Integrated Space Weather Modeling