With a geomagnetic storm likely over the next 72 hours, the experts that track such space weather are now armed with more data: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), of which the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) is a part of, has successfully transitioned the processing of the Sun’s magnetic field and lower atmosphere from the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s National Solar Observatory (NSO).
Since 2006, a research program run by the NSF’s NSO has provided continual observational data of solar activity from a global network of six identical telescopes to support space weather prediction, and the study of the Sun’s internal structure and dynamics.
“This is an excellent example of research to operations in science,” said Valentin Martinez Pillet, Director of NSO. “We took a network that was not designed to provide observations in such regimented ways, and we adapted it for use in space weather forecasting. This adjustment of purpose shows the value that can be had by federal agencies combining efforts to work together.”
This solar data is captured through a network of six solar telescopes distributed around the world and strategically located to provide a continuous stream of data. This network is known as “GONG”.
“Our forecasters use imagery from GONG to monitor solar activity, such as solar flares, and for situational awareness,” said Brent Gordon, Chief of the Space Weather Services Branch, Space Weather Prediction Center. “The transition of these data streams to “operational” status will ensure robust delivery of the observations to space weather forecasters, something that is not feasible using research infrastructure.”
NSO will continue to operate the GONG telescopes for NSF, with NOAA SWPC sharing the costs of operating and maintaining the GONG network as well as maintaining the responsibility for processing and disseminating observational space weather data products.
Experts have indicated that we are entering an active solar cycle now and incidents like this will increase with frequency and intensity in the coming months. With the cooperation with the NSF and NOAA, NSO and GONG will be able to help scientists with real-time data needs while also serving as a research tool for ongoing solar studies.
“NSF is proud to partner with NOAA and NSO for the operation of the GONG facility,” said Carrie Black, NSF Program Director for NSO. “While GONG remains an important part of NSF’s solar research portfolio, these new operational space weather capabilities have greatly broadened its overall scientific mission.”