Threats from space - what the weather might have in store
21 Sep 2011



A meeting of space scientists at the University of Leicester is examining the future of space science - and the threat posed to the Earth from space weather.

Solar flare captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory.

​​Solar Flare taken by SDO​

Credit: NASA

​A speaker will today address the issues at Observing the Earth and Planets: The Next 50 Years. The conference, marking 50 years of space research at the University of Leicester, considers the next steps in Space research over the coming decades, the science that will be required and the role of academia in the Space sector.

Professor Mike Hapgood, Head of the Space Environment Group at RAL Space, the space department of the Science and Technologies Facilities Council, will examine the linkage between the science of space weather and its impact on technological systems. He will cover the potential impact of space weather on orbital and ground based systems, including power, energy and communications - as well as atmospheric physics.

Professor Hapgood said: "Space weather is receiving growing attention at governmental and parliamentary levels in the UK. For example, it's now under study as part of the National Risk Assessment process in Cabinet Office.

"Only last week the Commons Defence Committee announced an inquiry (link opens in a new window) into threats to electromagnetic infrastructures. Space weather is explicitly in scope of this inquiry."

Professor Hapgood will stress that we need better models of space weather tracing the energy flow all the way from the Sun to the Earth - and that our long-term goal must be to develop models based on better understanding of the physics, so we handle extreme events properly.

He said: "I think that long-term goal fits well with the 50-year vision for the symposium. It also stresses the need to advance our detailed understanding of solar and solar-terrestrial physics. A broad-brush understanding is not enough. So there are important issues here for future research."

Professor Hapgood added there was a need to provide information about space weather that was of real use to people in industry and government: "Some of those measurements need to be made in space - an issue that ESA is pursuing via its space situational awareness programme. Others need to be made on the ground - and may be pursued in a proposal in which both RAL Space and Leicester are currently involved (as well as many other UK and other European partners).

"So this is an area where we need to develop better scientific instruments and then spin them out into a future operations programme. A key issue here is that these are ultimately global projects - and thus the UK needs contribute to them at a level appropriate to its financial and technical abilities."

For more information please contact: RAL Space Enquiries