Strides made in understanding space weather at Earth



Disturbances on the Sun can produce dramatic effects in the space environment surrounding the Earth. Energetic particle effects become more intense and pose a hazard to astronauts and damage spacecraft electronics; satellite lifetimes are shortened by increased atmospheric drag, and communications and navigation are disrupted by the changing plasma environment.

“Space weather” has become the modern idiom for these effects, and periods of high activity are called geomagnetic storms. During a storm the ionosphere can be severely altered. A typical episode may reveal either a large decrease (negative phase) or increase (positive phase) in the normal daily peak ion density (NmF2) or total electron content (TEC). These changes in ion density are sometimes called ionospheric storms, and often persist for more than a day after a period of high geomagnetic activity.