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What is space weather and how does it impact the Earth?

Space weather is defined as the variations in the space environment between the sun and Earth and how it impacts systems and technologies in orbit and on earth.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — When it comes to space weather, it doesn’t mean trying to predict our chance of having meteor “showers” in the forecast.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center, Space weather is defined as the variations in the space environment between the sun and earth and how it impacts systems and technologies in orbit and on earth.  

The sun plays a huge rule in influencing space weather. 

During a powerful solar storm the sun produces Coronal Mass Ejections or CME’s, which is made up of magnetized solar particles called plasma. This is same phenomena that creates the spectacular Northern Lights. During these events, 100 million tons of plasma is ejected from the Sun’s surface, traveling over a million miles per hour. 

This creates geomagnetic storms here on Earth, but thanks to the Earth’s magnetic field, we are protected. 

Space weather events like these could disrupt our power grids, impact GPS coordinates and create other magnetic changes that impact different technology if its strong enough.  

Solar flares are different from CMEs. Each travel at different speeds and have different impacts on Earth. 

CMEs look more like a large wave of gas versus flares looking like a bright light. Flares can produce strong x-rays and disrupt the area where high frequency radio waves travel in the atmosphere and block them. This can lead to temporary black outs in navigation and communication in events known as Radio Blackout storms. 

Just like meteorologists use various weather models to help create a forecast, scientists at the Space Weather Prediction Center can use simulations to help predict these mass ejection arrivals. 

This is helpful when alerting certain groups that may be impacted by them such as power companies or airlines. 

    

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