Solar Stormwatch needs you! It is now over three years since the launch of the NASA STEREO satellites and in this time they have taken many hundreds of thousands of images of our nearest star. My colleagues and I have been valiantly scrutinising these images for signs of solar activity and, more importantly, for solar storms that are heading towards the Earth. Each storm contains around a billion tons of hot solar gases travelling at a million miles an hour and their passage represents a severe radiation hazard to both spacecraft and astronauts.
Tracking these storms through space is very important if we are to provide a space weather forecast for satellite operators and astronauts and the STEREO mission is demonstrating that this can now be done. STEREO is a science mission however, and our efforts are concentrated on figuring out what has happened after the event, much in the same way that forensic scientists piece together a crime from the clues that are left behind. We simply don’t have the resource to be looking at the data in real-time to provide an up-to-date forecast of solar conditions. We need your help.
The Galaxy Zoo volunteers have already shown the power of motivated communities to provide valuable scientific scrutiny to overwhelming amounts of scientific data. We would like to tap into your amazing enthusiasm to help us piece together the stories of past storms and, once you have got your eye in, to scrutinise the real-time data in order to provide real-time alerts to those in the direct firing line, such as the crew of the International Space Station.
My team and I have only managed to study a handful of events so far. With your help, we can analyse many more events and do so in a way that is free of the subjective bias introduced by one person sat in his office making arbitrary decisions. That one person is me, and I need your help! Together we can use STEREO images to learn what it takes to make an accurate forecast of space weather conditions. Space exploration will always be a risky business but with an accurate space-weather forecast, astronauts will have one less thing to be worrying about as they leave the relative safety of Earth orbit and start to explore our solar system.