A team of researchers at the University of NH (UNH) in Durham will be taking part in an effort to improve space weather monitoring and forecasting. “This project has some important national implications,” says Roy Torbert, UNH professor of physics.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA awarded a $6 million contract to the UNH Space Science Center to design and build a magnetometer that is part of a suite of instruments to measure storms created by solar wind that can affect things on Earth.
“With this magnetometer, we’ll be able to measure how the Earth’s magnetic field is impacted by the solar wind and help support NOAA’s mission to monitor and forecast space weather events that can influence the performance of technology such as electrical power grids, satellite-based communication and GPS navigation systems,” says Torbert.
Torbert, the lead principal investigator on the magnetometer portion of the mission, says the need to work remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic will not delay UNH’s work on the project. “We collaborate internationally so a lot work is already done remotely,” he says. “There is some lab work and that can be accomplished by having one person at a time in there. Some of it also could be done with robotics.”
The team of UNH researchers will partner with the Southwest Research Institute in Texas, the lead institution, to develop the magnetometer that will be a part of the Space Weather Follow-On L1 mission. It measures the intersection of the sun’s and earth’s magnetic fields. “It is a leader to what NOAA wants to set up system-wide that will allow good predictions,” Torbert says.
Harlan Spence, director for UNH’s Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space, says a spacecraft located at that intersection can measure the solar wind plasma and the interplanetary magnetic field about an hour before they reach Earth, providing advanced warnings that are important for industries affected by geospace storms.