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Scientists Launch Solar Stormwatch To Ask Public For Help In Understanding The Sun



Colin Stuart
Press Officer
Royal Observatory, Greenwich
Phone: +44 20 8312 6545
Email: press@nmm.ac.uk

Dr. Chris Davis
Project Scientist, STEREO Heliospheric Imagers
STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Phone: +44 1235 446 710
Email: chris.davis@stfc.ac.uk  
Julia Wilkinson
Solar Stormwatch volunteer
Phone: +44 0797 045 2828
Email: jules@astroshed.net 



A Coronal Mass Ejection (CME)
A Coronal Mass Ejection (CME)
An active Sun
An active Sun
The STEREO spacecraft
The STEREO spacecraft

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Core Facts

  • The Sun is much more dynamic than it appears in our sky. Intense magnetic fields churn and pummel the Sun's atmosphere and they store enormous amounts of energy that, when released, hurl billions of tons of material out into space in explosions called Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) - or solar storms.

  • Solar Stormwatch volunteers can spot these storms and track their progress across space towards the Earth. Such storms can be harmful to astronauts in orbit and have the potential to knock out communication satellites, disrupt mobile phone networks and damage power lines. With the public's help, Solar Stormwatch will allow solar scientists to better understand these potentially dangerous storms and help to forecast their arrival time at Earth.

  • The project uses real data from NASA's STEREO spacecraft, a pair of satellites in orbit around the Sun which give scientists a constant eye on the ever-changing solar surface. The UK has a major input in STEREO, providing the two widest-field instruments, the Heliospheric Imagers, which provide Solar Stormwatch with its data. Each imager has two cameras helping STEREO stare across the 150 million kilometres from the Earth to the Sun.

  • Solar Stormwatch is the latest chapter in a long history of solar research at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, dating back to the 1870's, when the Observatory housed a photoheliograph, a telescope that took daily photos of the Sun to track sunspots. Visitors will be able to see this telescope again when the Altazimuth Pavilion at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, reopens in March 2010.


Dr. Chris Davis, Project Scientist, STEREO Heliospheric Imagers.
"Despite being at its lowest activity levels in a century, the Sun has been surprisingly active. The STEREO spacecraft have observed hundreds of solar storms, each containing around a billion tonnes of material travelling at a million miles an hour. If this is what a quiet Sun looks like, I can't wait to see an active one, and there are signs that the Sun is waking up at last."

"The more people looking at our data, the more discoveries we will make. Together with the Royal Observatory Greenwich, we have developed www.solarstormwatch.com where we encourage everyone to track these spectacular storms through space. These storms are a potential radiation hazard for spacecraft and astronauts alike and together we hope to provide advanced warning of their arrival at Earth."

Dr. Marek Kukula, Public Astronomer, Royal Observatory, Greenwich.
"The Royal Observatory has a long history of observing the Sun and trying to understand its effects on the Earth so it's fitting that the Solar Stormwatch project will put Greenwich back at the forefront of solar research. And as a national museum it's great to be part of a project which involves the public in cutting edge science. I'm really looking forward to seeing the first results."

Julia Wilkinson, Solar Stormwatch Volunteer.
"The Solar Stormwatch website has a game-like feel without losing any of the science. I can click away identifying features and watch solar storms head towards Earth on the video clips and learn about solar science at the same time. It's fun, it's addictive, it's educational and you get to contribute to real astronomy research without being an expert in astrophysics." 

"It's exciting to think that we might spot a solar storm heading our way early enough to prepare for impact. The fact that any Solar Stormwatch volunteer could make a brand new discovery about our neighbouring star is very cool indeed. All you need is a computer and an interest in finding out more about what the sun is really like. Solar astronomy has never been easier!"

Boilerplate Statements

1. Citizen Science is a movement where scientists harness a vast network of volunteers to help analyse scientific data. This mass participation allows scientists to untangle data that it would take much longer, or be impossible to analyse otherwise. In other cases the human eye and brain are much more adept at making subjective decisions than computers and so are better suited to more finely detailed observations. The Citizen Science Alliance, led by Dr. Chris Lintott, brings together an international team of scientists, software developers and educators to continue to build on previous Citizen Science success. Solar Stormwatch is part of the Zooniverse network of projects. The first Zooniverse project, Galaxy Zoo, involved more than 250,000 people in classifying galaxies for a team of astronomers. 

2. Solar Stormwatch is one of the flagship elements of Solar Season at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, a series of events in early 2010 designed to put the Sun in the spotlight. Complimenting Solar Stormwatch is Solar Story: Understanding the Sun an exhibition charting human's continuing quest to understand their nearest star. Visitors to the Peter Harrison Planetarium can also catch Secrets of the Sun, a new show revealing the Sun to be far from a docile sphere in the sky.

3. The Royal Observatory, Greenwich is the home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian and one of the most important historic scientific sites in the world. Since its founding in 1675, Greenwich has been at the centre of the measurement of time and space. Visitors can stand in both the eastern and western hemispheres simultaneously by placing their feet either side of the Prime Meridian line. Today the Observatory galleries and Peter Harrison Planetarium help unravel the extraordinary phenomena of time, space and astronomy.

4. The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is one of Europe's largest multi-disciplinary research organisations. Part of Research Councils UK, STFC is funded by the government to support world-class science and technology.

STFC ensures the UK retains its leading place on the world stage by delivering world-class science; accessing and hosting international facilities; developing innovative technologies; and increasing the socio-economic impact of its research through effective knowledge exchange partnerships.

The Council has a broad science portfolio including Astronomy, Particle Physics, Particle Astrophysics, Nuclear Physics, Space Science, Synchrotron Radiation, Neutron Sources and High Power Lasers. In addition the Council manages and operates three internationally renowned laboratories:

The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Oxfordshire

The Daresbury Laboratory, Cheshire

- The UK Astronomy Technology Centre, Edinburgh

The Council gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), the Institute Laue Langevin (ILL), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), the European organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO) and the European Space Agency (ESA). It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii and in Chile, and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility, which includes the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory.

The Council is a partner in the UK space programme, coordinated by the British National Space Centre.

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