Application Facilitates Monitoring and Analysis of Solar Activity

Hello reader!

It follows one article published day (02/27) in the english website of the Agência FAPESP highlighting that a brazilian professor from the Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences of the University of São Paulo (USP) develops application that facilitates the monitoring and analysis of Solar Activity.

Duda Falcão

Application Facilitates Monitoring
and Analysis of Solar Activity

Por Elton Alisson
27/02/2013

Program developed by
Brazilian researcher for the
iPhone and iPad processes and
converts numerical data on
solar explosions and particle
emissions into graphs
Agência FAPESP – Professor Eder Cassola Molina of Universidade de São Paulo’s Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences (IAG-USP) has developed an app for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch that facilitates the monitoring and analysis of solar activity.

The “Magnetic Storms” app can be downloaded for free at itunes.apple.com/br/app/magnetic-storms/id575956246?mt=8 and operates in multiple languages: Brazilian Portuguese, Portuguese, English, Spanish, Italian and French.

The app has been downloaded 1,200 times since it was released in November, mainly by researchers in Brazil, the United States, Australia and Canada.

“The application processes data about solar explosions and particle emissions provided by international geostationary satellites and presents them in a more readily [understandable] manner both for researchers [and] for people interested in solar activity and its implication for the Earth’s magnetic field,” explained Molina in an interview with Agência FAPESP.

According to the researcher, due to the nuclear processes that occur inside it, the Sun constantly emits millions of positively or negatively charged particles (protons and electrons, respectively) per second.

Our star reaches its peak activity in 11-year cycles, as can currently be observed. More-intense eruptions occur and the Sun emits more charged particles than usual during these peaks.

“Upon reaching the Earth, these particles interact with the magnetic field and cause disturbances [that] can generate magnetic storms,” explained Molina.

To predict and study these disturbances to the Earth’s magnetic field caused by solar particles, international research institutions such as the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States use satellites to monitor solar activity.

The information is made available to the public via SWPC’s website, but it is difficult to understand, even for specialists in the area.

“The data are presented in the form of numbers and tables that are not easily understood by researchers, much less lay people. For this reason, I decided to develop the application to facilitate analysis and understanding of this information,” commented Molina.

Data Conversion to Graphs

According to Molina, after users start the app, it connects to the SWPC database via the Internet and converts the numerical information into a set of three graphs. One of the graphs indicates the flow of protons and electrons emitted by the Sun over the previous three days, as monitored by the satellites.

“[These] solar particles take approximately 100 hours to reach the Earth at speeds of 400 to 800 kilometers per second. [Thus,] when observing an abnormal flow of [these particles] using the program, the app user can estimate an eventual disturbance in the magnetic field a few days in advance,” explained Molina.

Another graph presents the Earth’s geomagnetic indexes. Updated every three hours, one of the planetary indexes shown on the graph – the Kp – indicates the average activity of the magnetic field on a scale of 0 to 9 based on the data collected by a network of geomagnetic observatories distributed around the world that monitor the Earth’s magnetic field minute-by-minute.

Another planetary index utilized in the graph, the A index, estimates the behavior of the magnetic field over the next few days on a scale of 0 to 300.

“An index near 0 indicates that [the] Earth’s magnetic field will be normal…the following day. [An index] above 30 warns that it will be disturbed,” explains Molina.

Solar Eruptions

The application’s third and final graph indicates the number and type of solar eruptions based on data supplied by NOAA’s GOES satellites. The satellites monitor solar flares and classify them according to their X-ray intensity in wavelength intervals of 1 to 8 Ångstroms (a unit used to measure the size of biological structures).

Class C eruptions, for example, are the most common and do not affect the planet. However, Class M flares are medium-intensity eruptions that affect the regions of the Earth’s poles and can interfere with radiophonic transmissions. Class X eruptions are rarer, but larger, and they can damage satellites and suspend the propagation of radio, television and telephony signals.

“It is because of…economic losses that…countries such as the United States constantly monitor solar eruptions and particle emissions. [They also] consider this type of information important [for] weather [forecasting],” said Molina.

Geophysical Research and Aurora Forecasts

According to Molina, in addition to helping reduce the economic damage and losses that can be caused by the emission of solar particles, monitoring solar activity via the application can also be useful for geophysical research that involves magnetometry by researchers in the area.

For example, those in the field know that data for geophysical prospection should not be collected on magnetically perturbed days because the information will be affected by the activities of solar anomalies.

“Before conducting a field study in a given area, the geophysicist always checks data on solar activity to verify whether there was an event in previous days that could compromise his/her study. The application can help [researchers] to obtain this information,” affirmed Molina.

Another possible use for the application is predicting polar auroras such as those that normally occur in regions of the globe such as Alaska, Canada and Greenland. Caused by magnetic storms, this phenomenon is characterized by spectacular lights and colors that tint the sky in the polar regions during the night.

“For anyone near the Earth’s poles who wants to predict auroras, the application is very useful. I have even predicted some two days in advance,” said Molina.

Improvements to the App

The researcher developed the application over three months with his son André Molina, who is studying digital game designs and develops applications for iOS, the Apple operating system for mobile devices.

Molina intends to develop other apps with applications in astronomy, geophysics and atmospheric sciences in partnership with his students at IAG. “The idea of developing this first application was to uncover the capacity and possibilities of using mobile devices for [the acquisition], processing and presentation of scientific data in [a] quicker, easier and more practical way,” said Molina.

“[Users’ evaluations have been] very good. The application [has] received several very positive reviews on the Apple Store,” he affirmed. The application is compatible with any iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch with an iOS43 operating system or higher.


Source: English WebSite of the Agência FAPESP

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