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FP7

SHOCK — Result In Brief

Project ID: 284515
Funded under: FP7-SPACE
Country: United Kingdom

Preparing for solar storms

To deepen our understanding of how the Sun influences space weather in the solar system, EU-funded scientists are developing the most detailed simulations of the interaction between solar wind and magnetospheres.
Preparing for solar storms
A multitude of space exploration missions has returned a wealth of data on solar wind, the stream of charged particles continuously emanating from the Sun. During solar storms, the intensity of energetic particles can increase dramatically, wreaking havoc on Earth's communications and power distribution networks.

Current forecasting of this so-called space weather is inaccurate and does not sufficiently help prepare for solar storms. The EU-funded project SHOCK (Solar and heliosphericcollisionless kinetics: Enabling data analysis of the Sun to earth plasma system with kinetic modelling) was launched to increase our understanding of small-scale kinetic changes in solar wind, with the ultimate goal of advancing space weather prediction.

Traditional simulations of magnetosphere-solar wind interaction are based on magnetohydrodynamics models in which space plasma is treated as a fluid. However, because magnetospheres are dominated by ion kinetic effects, much more realistic models can be developed by treating the ions as particles. Results of these simulations can then be directly compared with spacecraft observations.

SHOCK scientists compared results of such realistic simulations of the interaction between solar wind and Mercury's magnetosphere with observations from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Messenger mission. Research has also been conducted into the structure of Earth's bow shock as this is reproduced in simulations of the magnetosphere-solar wind interaction.

A virtual mission laboratory was developed to visualise the results of kinetic simulations of space plasmas in a format suitable for comparison with data from space missions. The prototype of this web-based application is available here and accessible for both researchers and the general public.

Taking advantage of the synergy between space plasma modelling and data analysis, SHOCK scientists have solved long-lasting mysteries related to turbulence, particle acceleration and reconnection in solar wind. In recent comparisons, these fundamental processes captured in their simulations matched well with observations from the European Space Agency's (ESA) Cluster mission.

SHOCK scientists are continuing to compare their predictions with observations from both NASA and ESA spacecraft. The results will be invaluable in developing more accurate models of solar wind's interaction with magnetospheres, which is key to predicting space weather in the solar system.

Related information

Keywords

Solar storms, space weather, solar wind, magnetospheres, kinetic modelling
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