Scientists launch Solar Stormwatch to ask public for help in understanding the Sun

The Royal Observatory, Greenwich (ROG), in partnership with the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and Zooniverse are launching Solar Stormwatch, a new web project where anyone can help spot and track solar storms and be involved in the latest solar research.

Solar Stormwatch
The Sun is much more dynamic than it appears in our sky. Intense magnetic fields churn and pummel the Sun’s atmosphere and they store enormous amounts of energy that, when released, hurl billions of tons of material out into space in explosions called Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) – or solar storms.

Solar Stormwatch volunteers can spot these storms and track their progress across space towards the Earth. Such storms can be harmful to astronauts in orbit and have the potential to knock out communication satellites, disrupt mobile phone networks and damage power lines. With the public’s help, Solar Stormwatch will allow solar scientists to better understand these potentially dangerous storms and help to forecast their arrival time at Earth.

Julia Wilkinson, a Solar Stormwatch user says, “The fact that any Solar Stormwatch volunteer could make a brand new discovery about our neighbouring star is very cool indeed. All you need is a computer and an interest in finding out more about what the Sun is really like.”

Dr. Chris Davis, one of the STFC scientists behind Solar Stormwatch says of the project, “The more people who can take part in Solar Stormwatch, the more we will know about solar storms. Collective measurements by many people are worth much more than the subjective opinion of one person.”

The project uses real data from NASA’s STEREO spacecraft, a pair of satellites in orbit around the Sun, which give scientists a constant eye on the ever-changing solar surface. The UK has a major input in STEREO, providing the two widest-field instruments, the Heliospheric Imagers, which provide Solar Stormwatch with its data. Each imager has two cameras helping STEREO stare across the 150 million kilometres (93 million miles) from the Earth to the Sun.

Solar Stormwatch is the latest chapter in a long history of solar research at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, dating back to the 1870s, when the Observatory housed a photoheliograph, a telescope that took daily photos of the Sun to track sunspots.