Predicting ferocious flares is unreliable at best. To improve the space weather forecast value to operational end-users, scientists with Air Force Research Laboratory's Solar Disturbance Prediction Program stationed at the National Solar Observatory's complex at Sacramento Peak, N.M., initiated a project called Solar Fusion.
It is a grand "data fusion" effort that aims to bundle state-of-the-art, research-grade solar and space environment data from a large variety of telescopes, satellites, and computer-based models, and make it available to the Air Force Weather Agency's Space Weather Operations Center, the Defense Department's only operational space weather forecast center.
" The Air Force Weather Agency relies on real-time solar measurements to allow accurate forecasting of hazardous space weather conditions," said Lt. Col. William Cade, chief of the Air Force Weather Agency's Applied Technology Division. "Air Force Research Laboratory is a perfect partner to support our space weather forecast mission."
"We need to improve the value of space weather forecasting because things like satellite operations and warfighter communication, as well as navigation on the ground are drastically affected by what the sun is doing," said Dr. Nathan Dalrymple, Solar Disturbance Prediction Program manager, Air Force Research Laboratory's Space Vehicles Directorate, Kirtland AFB, N.M.
"By enabling more accurate forecasts, Solar Fusion allows the Air Force and the Defense Department to better manage its communication networks and satellite operations," he explained.
The first fruits of Solar Fusion were realized in January 2006, when daily solar data began to pass from the Air Force Research Laboratory to the Air Force Weather Agency.
The collaboration currently consists of maps of the solar wind speed projected onto the sun and involves a three-step process.
First, ground-based facilities including the Mount Wilson Observatory, located above Pasadena, Calif., and the National Solar Observatory, Kitt Peak, Ariz., provide solar magnetic field information to the Air Force Research Laboratory facility, situated 15 miles south of Cloudcroft, N.M.
Then, program staff generates a source surface map from the submitted information and send it to the Air Force Weather Agency.
Finally, the Air Force Weather Agency employs the source surface map to initialize the new Hakamada-Akasofu-Fry (HAF) solar wind model, which forecasts when a coronal mass ejection will strike the Earth. Other ventures between the two agencies have also been planned.