NOAA satellite can predict space weather and show solar flares

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NOAA releases stunning images of the sun taken by its latest weather satellite showing swirling plasma ejected from the solar atmosphere into space and sucked into the sun.

GOES-18 was launched from Florida in March 2021 and is NOAA’s third series of GOES-R geostationary satellites. It is in the final stages of commissioning its powerful weather observation instruments, including the Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI), which helps predict space weather.

A version of SUVI has flown on all new GOES satellites and can send images back to Earth in minutes to forecasters with NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

Dr. Laurel Rachmeler is head of the Solar and Terrestrial Physics Section of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. She and her team work on the calibration and validation of space weather instruments, such as SUVI. As forecasters strive to share weather data with the public, the NCEI ensures that the quality of the data is up to par.

As testing and calibration wraps up on the last satellite, there will soon be three eyes in the sky watching the sun continuously.

Because the sun is so hot, images of the sun are taken in ultraviolet wavelengths.

Each SUVI channel is a different wavelength of ultraviolet light, which samples plasma at varying temperatures in the sun’s outer atmosphere, known as the corona. NOAA recently released the image above showing the differences between the six channels.

The orange-red image (lower right) is the 304 Angstrom wavelength measuring cooler plasma at 50,000 degrees Kelvin in the chromosphere, the layer below the corona.

As testing and calibration wraps up on the last satellite, there will soon be three eyes in the sky watching the sun continuously.

“That’s what we solar physicists call cool,” Rachmeler said.

This picture is from 304A.

Rachmeler explains that the video shows a prominence or filaments erupting in the lower right corner of the sun.

“As it lifts, you see this kind of twisting or twisting motion. And that’s happening as this massive plasma and magnetic field is slowly moving away from the sun,” Rachmeler said.

As the video continues, the material continues to spiral as it is pulled back towards the sun. This is called a partial blowout.

“If the magnetic field is still connected to the sun when it erupts, some of that filament material may actually come down the magnetic field and back down to the surface of the sun,” Rachmeler said.

The golden wavelength of 171 Angstrom (top right) is Rachmeler’s favorite because she studied solar magnetic fields.

Each SUVI channel is a different wavelength of ultraviolet light, which samples plasma at varying temperatures in the sun's outer atmosphere.
Each SUVI channel is a different wavelength of ultraviolet light, which samples plasma at varying temperatures in the sun’s outer atmosphere.
NOAA

At around 1 million degrees Kelvin, it is one of the coldest corona plasmas. Structures emanate from the edge of the disk, tracing the lines of magnetic fields.

“You see these kinds of structures emanating from the edge of the disc and coming out of these kind of fine lines, and these trace the lines of magnetic fields. These trace the direction in which the magnetic field is,” Rachmeler said. “Because of that, 171 is a great way for my brain to process that very quickly. Okay. What’s the magnetic field doing today?

Space weather forecast

SUVI provides space weather forecasters with daily data and time-lapse observations that help solar scientists learn more about how solar activity is changing.

“The SUVI is also very important because it shows us what is the basic state of the sun? Where are the active regions? Where are there really long protrusions? Where are there things called corona holes that can also cause minor geomagnetic storms? Rachmeler said.

Different variants of SUVI flew on the latest GOES satellites, starting with GOES-16 in 2017. GOES-U will launch in 2024 and observe the sun until at least 2040.
Different variants of SUVI flew on the latest GOES satellites, starting with GOES-16 in 2017. GOES-U will launch in 2024 and observe the sun until at least 2040.
NOAA

For most people, there is usually no reason to worry about CMEs or solar flares. Most of the effects of a geomagnetic storm are felt on technological infrastructure, including aviation, satellites, electrical power, GPS, and radio communications.

“If you’re an astronaut, you have to be careful, and if you’re an airline crew, that’s a lot of polar routes,” Rachmeler said. “In terms of actual effects like radiation for the general public, there are very few.”

NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center forecasts, including geomagnetic storm watches, are for private and federal organizations to know what’s coming and give them time to take action to protect their systems.

From Earth’s perspective, flares closer to the center of the sun are more likely to cause geoefficient CMEs.

SUVI can help forecasters see if a CME has a big solar flare and where it is coming from.

“If the origin is somewhere closer to the center of the disc, we can pay more attention to it and assume it’s going to come our way and model it more focused,” Rachmeler said.

A recent SUVI observation by the GOES-16 satellite recorded a CME on July 21, prompting the Space Weather Prediction Center to issue a G2 (moderate) geomagnetic storm warning, which can occasionally bring beautiful northern lights to the northern United States. United.

Different variants of SUVI flew on the latest GOES satellites, starting with GOES-16 in 2017. GOES-U will launch in 2024 and observe the sun until at least 2040.

The GOES-18 SUVI observes the sun in six channels of X-rays and extreme ultraviolet (EUV).
The GOES-18 SUVI observes the sun in six channels of X-rays and extreme ultraviolet (EUV).
NOAA

“This means that we can observe the sun for more than two full solar cycles with the same instrument. So we get a very long continuity there,” Rachmeler said.

A solar cycle lasts 11 years, and at all times there is now an SUVI monitoring the sun, ensuring forecasters and researchers learn as much as possible about the behavior of the sun.

Rachmeler said that while the first extreme ultraviolet solar observations were taken in 1946, solar science still has a long way to go.

“We still have a lot to learn, and we’ve come a long way since then, but there’s no shortage of questions yet to be uncovered.”

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