UK launches space weather forecast centre

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UK launches space weather forecast centre

The UK officially opened its first space weather forecasting centre this week.

Funding for the Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre, based at the organisation’s headquarters in Exeter, was announced by the government late last year.

Since May the centre has been operating 24/7, ahead of its public launch on 8 October. As well as giving early warning of space weather threats to critical infrastructure, such as the National Grid, the Met Office now also provides publicly-available forecasts, published on its website.

‘Space weather’ is a term which covers how radiation and high-energy particles, ejected from magnetic storms in the Sun, interact with Earth’s magnetic field and impact terrestrial technology. Severe space weather can knock out satellite communications and disrupt global positioning systems (GPS) and power grids.

The centre came about following three years of discussion between the Met Office and its US counterpart, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service, based in Boulder, Colorado, which was keen to establish a backup for their Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC).

To determine how soon a solar event will be felt on Earth, forecasters at the SWPC and Met Office will use the same models, based on data from the same spacecraft. But by running the models at slightly different times, forecasters will be able to compare the results and generate a more accurate picture, says Catherine Burnett, space weather programme manager at the Met Office.  The UK’s centre will also use different ground-based data to hone its forecasts for the UK, she adds.

Speaking ahead of the official launch, Laura Furgione, deputy director at NOAA’s National Weather Service, said that accurately predicting and preparing for the impacts from space weather required “a commitment similar to terrestrial weather forecasting and preparedness”.