Tuesday 2nd December 2014
Dr Jonathan Eastwood (Imperial College London)
All talks start at 7.30pm in the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 22 - 26 George Street, with refreshments from 7.00 pm
Abstract: Outer space is not quite empty: it is filled with a very dilute gas of charged particles – plasma – and this provides an invisible link between the Earth and the Sun which has the potential to disrupt every aspect of our life on Earth as we know it. In this lecture I will guide you through this invisible world existing just above our heads, and explain how the Earth’s magnetic field extends into space, forming a shield which protects us from the solar wind and solar activity. Although the Sun looks like a relatively unchanging object, constantly shining in the sky, if we look more carefully, we see that it is a complex and dynamic place, prone to eruptions which can travel through space towards the Earth and which can break down the protective shield that surrounds the Earth, leading to what are known as geomagnetic storms. The principal manifestation of such storms in the night sky are extraordinary and vivid auroral displays, but they also pose a significant risk to many aspects of modern life.
Consequently, space weather is defined as the conditions on the Sun and in the solar wind, Earth’s magnetosphere, ionosphere, and thermosphere that can influence the performance and reliability of space-borne and ground-based technological systems and endanger human life or health. I will discuss some different types of space weather, which range in risk from relatively minor to extremely major, albeit with decreasing likelihood. Space weather is now in fact widely recognised as a significant risk, for example appearing on the cabinet office national risk register of civil emergencies; there is a concerted world-wide effort to understand the physics of space weather, and develop appropriate forecasts, mitigation strategies and technological solutions. I will conclude with discussing both international and UK activities in this area, including the new Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre, as well as plans for the next generation of monitoring satellites.