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Space Weather Modeling

Play narrated models below.

A cluster of sunspots appears on the sun. Will there be a giant eruption of matter, a coronal mass ejection? Will the disturbance reach earth? When? What effect will it have on communication systems, power lines, and astronauts in space?

Being able to answer these questions—precisely and definitively—is an important goal for scientists working on space weather models. Like all computer models, space weather models simulate real physical systems—the sun, the solar wind, the earth’s magnetosphere—using actual data, theoretical mathematics, or both.

But modeling space weather is tricky. That’s because it results from the interplay of various physical systems that are themselves complex and incompletely understood. In the end, reality is the test. If a model behaves something like its real-life counterpart, then scientists know they are on the right track.

Until recently, most space weather modeling efforts focused on just one part of the sun-earth system. Now the focus is on piecing these various models together. The Center for Integrated Space Weather Modeling (CISM) is a collaboration of scientists working to tie together existing space weather models—like these shown here—to create a single, comprehensive model stretching from the sun to the earth and beyond.


Model 1: Coronal Mass Ejection: Artist’s View [Play] [Play Enhanced]
Mike Wiltberger narrates this artist’s rendering of a coronal mass ejection from the sun impacting the earth’s magnetic field. Animation produced by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. back to top
Model 2: Earth’s Magnetosphere [Play] [Play Enhanced]
Mike Wiltberger narrates this animated model of a coronal mass ejection impacting the earth’s magnetic field.
Model 3: Coronal Mass Ejection [Play]
Pete Riley narrates this animated model of a coronal mass ejection traveling outward from the sun toward the earth.

Model 4: Satellite in a Storm [Play]
Harlan Spence narrates this animated model of a satellite’s orbit around the earth during a geomagnetic storm. back to top

Model 5: Solar Wind [Play]
Harlan Spence narrates this animated model of the solar wind spiraling outward from the sun.

Mike Wiltberger is a magnetospheric physicist at the High Altitude Observatory, part of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in Boulder, Colorado.

Pete Riley is a senior research scientist at Science Applications International Corporation in San Diego, California.


Harlan Spence is professor of astronomy at Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts.

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