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Protect our Planet from Solar Storms – new activity!

Hi everyone, hope you are all keeping well in these strange times.

Here at Solar Stormwatch, we have some exciting news for you, which might help keep you entertained over the coming weeks (assuming you aren’t already busy helping with the many other Zooniverse projects which exist now!).

We have just launched a new activity on Protect our Planet from Solar Storms. This involves drawing around solar storms, in a similar way to Solar Stormwatch II.

Example image from the new activity!

In Solar Stormwatch II, we are looking at how the solar storms which occurred in 2011 and 2012, evolve as they travel past the camera.

In this new activity, we are using the same solar storm images we showed you in the Protect our Planet from Solar Storms comparison activity. These show 1100 different solar storms which occurred between 2008 and 2016.

Now that we have used your comparisons to rank these solar storms (you can see the results here), we wish to continue our research by asking a computer to analyse these images. However, computers are not good at separating the solar storms from the image background, so we are asking for your help again!

If you liked the old activity, don’t fret – we have also uploaded a new type of image which we would like you to compare.

These are images which have been processed (see Chris’s explanation here!), but have not been differenced (we haven’t subtracted another image from it), which means that the background star field is still visible.

An example of the new images on the Protect our Planet from Solar Storms comparison activity.

Your comparisons will help us determine whether “complexity” is the same in these images and the differenced images which we showed first.

Thanks for reading – please give us a hand if you have time! You can choose which activity to do on the project home page (see below), and please ask us any questions you have on the project talk page!

Protect our Planet from Solar Storms home page, choose your activity using the buttons shown in the blue circle!

Shannon & the Solar Stormwatch II team

Protect our Planet from Solar Storms: Results are in!

Hi all,

Thanks to everyone who compared solar storms in ‘Protect our Planet from Solar Storms’ – we now have results to share with you!

We have used your comparisons to rank 1100 solar storms in order of how complicated, or complex they appeared.

Figure 1 shows three solar storms from the ranking. The left-hand image is a less complex storm, the middle image is an average storm, and the right-hand storm is a highly complex storm.

increasing complexity

Figure 1: Three solar storms from across the complexity ranking.

The Sun has an ~11-year solar cycle, during which the number of sunspots (and solar storms) rises and falls. This can be seen in the bottom panel of Figure 2.

The top panel of Figure 2 shows the complexity of all 1100 solar storms plotted against the time the storm erupted from the Sun, for each of the two STEREO spacecraft. We have over-plotted yearly means, which clearly show that the average complexity of solar storms follows the sunspot cycle!


Figure 2: Top panel: complexity of solar storms over time, bottom panel: daily sunspot number.

Now we have established this, we are launching a new phase of the project – please help us compare solar storms with brightness adjusted images!

As usual, feel free to question us via the project Talk page!

Best wishes,

The Solar Stormwatch II team

What do you see as a “complex” solar storm?

Thank you very much for all your help with our solar storm research over the past year – we’ve made some good progress, thanks to you!

Some of you might have seen our project ‘Protect our Planet from Solar Storms’, which we launched back in May with the Science Museum. Here citizen scientists compared images of two solar storms, and decided which was the most complex or complicated solar storm.


Image: Screenshot of Zooniverse project ‘Protect our Planet from Solar Storms’

We have started to analyse the data from this project, and now have some interesting results, which we will share with you in the coming months (once we get them published!).

In the meantime, we would like your help…

We have used your comparisons to create a ranking of 1100 solar storms in order of complexity (see animation below). This clearly shows the characteristics of the storms seen in these images changing as they become more complex.


Animation: Subset of the solar storms which have been ranked, showing increasing complexity.

However, we have yet to work out precisely which characteristics make a solar storm “complex”. So to help us with this, we would like you to tell us what you saw as a complex solar storm; what did you look for when you decided which was the most complicated storm?

Please tell us what you see as a complex solar storm on the talk page or using this form!

Thanks again for all your help!

What do we do with the storm fronts you trace?

Hi all, thanks for all your hard work tracing storm fronts so far; we’re now over a third of the way there!

Back in September, I wrote a blog post explaining why we wanted your help with Solar Stormwatch II. Since then I’ve been using the data from Solar Stormwatch II to look at how solar storm fronts change shape and distort as they travel through the heliospheric imager field of view.

In this blog post, I explain how we combine all the storms fronts that you trace into a single consensus storm front (or two) in each image, allowing the fronts of a solar storm to be studied over the whole field of view.


Differenced images of solar storms are uploaded to Solar Stormwatch II. This image shows a solar storm from May 2010, and all the images in this post are of this same storm.


Every image of a solar storm is shown to 30 people, who each draw around the outermost and brightest fronts they see in each image. Each colour represents a different front drawing.



The points from the 30 front drawings are split into two groups. We use the coordinates of the outer front in the previous image to determine which points are likely to represent the same front. These points are shown in red, and the remaining points are shown in blue.



We first look at the red points as shown in the previous step. To combine all the points and find a consensus storm front profile, we use a process called kernel density estimation. This finds the areas of the image with the highest density of points; these areas are shown in black. The largest area corresponds to the storm front.



Using the storm front area found in the previous step, we can find the expected location of the storm front (solid red line) and calculate uncertainties from the distribution of the points in this area (dashed red lines).



The previous two steps are repeated for the second set of points shown in blue. There isn’t a second front in every image, so this stage involves a check to see whether the blue points show a storm front or not.



This method is repeated for every image of a solar storm, allowing us to examine how the shape of the storm changes throughout the field of view. The animation shows the outermost storm fronts found for this solar storm as it travels away from the Sun.

I’ve been looking at several solar storms to see how the shape of the storm front compares to the solar wind speed across the front; I hope to update you on this soon!

In the meantime, we are grateful for your continued support tracing storm fronts, and if you want to help with even more space weather research, we (the Solar Stormwatch II team) have recently released another project in collaboration with the Science Museum, see here: Protect our Planet from Solar Storms.

Welcome to Solar Stormwatch!

Hi! I’m Shannon. I first became involved with Stormwatch about a year ago, analysing the results of an original Solar Stormwatch activity; Track-it-back, and I’m now excited to be starting a PhD, studying space weather at the University of Reading, looking at solar storms.


Image: a solar storm or coronal mass ejection (NASA)

 So, what are solar storms, and why do we care about them?

Solar storms, also known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), are huge clouds of solar material emitted from the Sun. These are part of the phenomenon we call ‘space weather’. If these reach the Earth, they can cause geomagnetic storms with severe consequences, such as damage to power transformers leading to wide-spread, long-term power outages. Other impacts include increased radiation exposure for astronauts and passengers on commercial flights, damage to satellites, and reduced accuracy of GPS systems.

To reduce the impacts of solar storms, we need to be able to accurately predict if and when a storm will hit the Earth. Therefore, we want to learn as much as we can about the nature and evolution of these storms.

During my PhD, I intend to work on improving solar storm forecasts, and I’m hoping that through Solar Stormwatch, we can create a dataset of tracked solar storms to help me achieve this. To this end, we have created a new Stormwatch activity; Storm Front. In Storm Front we would like you to help us track solar storms as they travel away from the Sun by tracing the outlines of storms in images from the wide-angle cameras on the STEREO spacecraft.


Image: the Storm Front interface

I will use the storm fronts that you trace to create a dataset which tracks solar storms as they move away from the Sun. The Sun constantly emits solar material out into space – the solar wind, and this dataset will allow me to study the interaction between the solar wind and these storms, and examine how the solar wind distorts the shape of solar storms. This will hopefully allow forecasts of solar storms with greater accuracy.


Image: visualisation of the solar wind (NASA)

Check back here for updates on the project, but in the meantime, feel free to ask us any questions you might have on the ‘Talk’ page… Thanks for reading, look forward to hearing from you!