Archive | Site news RSS for this section

See your data analysis like never before!

Attention Stormwatchers!

Remember all that data analysis you’ve been doing for us? All those storms you’ve tracked in both archive and real time data have now been used to create an animation of what the Sun has been up to over the first three years of the STEREO mission. Over the summer, a student of mine, Amy Skelt, wrote a program to enable us to view your data analysis in a unique way. By taking all your CME tracking information and combining it with my analysis of smaller solar wind features, we can now create animations showing the activity of the solar wind throughout the first three years of the STEREO mission. Just in time for Christmas I’ve used Amy’s software to create a movie of the entire Stormwatch analysis so far. You can view the movie here;

It’s incredible! You can now see the constant stream of solar wind material as it erupts into space and even the spirals created as the various sources of solar wind rotate with the Sun. And when a solar storm erupts, you can see which planets are in the firing line!

We’ve had to make some assumptions about the rate at which the solar storms expand and so any differences between this movie and the real world will help us understand how realistic our assumptions are. Amy made the software very flexible so that you can view the solar system from a fixed point (as in the attached movie), from above or even from a moving object. You can even go for a ride on comet Encke and see how it fares as it rides the solar wind!

As usual, many, many thanks for your time and efforts so far. In the New Year my group and I at the University of Reading will be using your data analysis to investigate what we have learned so far about using STEREO HI data to make real-time forecasts. Working with the UK Met Office, we will ultimately be applying what we learn to improving the operational space weather forecasting model that they will be running. In the current climate, there is much talk of ‘impact’. I can confidently say that you are helping us with our impact. Both metaphorically and literally!

I hope that those of you that are about to celebrate Christmas have a wonderful holiday.

See you in the New Year for more Solar Storming!



Solar Stormwatch Community Poster


As part of the Zooniverse’s Advent Calendar we’ve been producing massive, author posters, built up of the names of the people who take part in our various projects. Solar Stormwatch’s community poster is Day 14 of our calendar and features an image not from STEREO but from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).

This image was taken about 17:50 UT on December 6th this year. The prominence seen in this image is nearly a million kilometers across! Although the entire Earth would be just a few pixels tall on this image, the 25,000 volunteers who gave their permission to have their names published by the project are found written larger than this in 12pt font!

You can download the image in a large 5000-pixel size (22 MB) or in a smaller 3000-pixel size (8 MB).

Realtime Updates

Finished working on automating the predictions from the clicks you give us on the incoming track it game and thought I would share with you some of the work you have been doing.

I have created a tool that allows me to plot all your clicks against a background of the realtime data you fitted – although of course I have the benefit to 20-20 hindsight, so the latest CME looked like this [the curve on the right hand side]
Stereo realtime data

I also pick out clicks that failed to get through our event detection system, and for the same dataset that looks like
Stereo realtime data - no event selected

The near vertical feature is almost certainly due to instrumental effects, the near horizontal feature is a star or planet.

The data that does get through the event detection system is then passed to the data fitting system that shows the clicks and the fitted curve
stereo B fitted data
and finally the CME speed and direction is 452km/s 42 degrees from Sun-Earth line and arrives at 1 AU at 2010-11-07 17:44.

fitted CME

Similar plots for the most recent data give us.




again there are vertical instrumental features that should be ignored. No event in this time range has been seen far enough from the Sun for us to make a meaningful prediction and so things have been a bit quiet on that front. Clicking on tracks as they are starting is however very useful in the event it does develop into a CME since that gives really good statistics for the start point and helps to constrain the fitting process.


‘Trace it’ – our plan for developing automated alerts

Those of you who have been following recent solar activity in the ‘Incoming!’ game may be forgiven for thinking that solar storms are like buses. We wait around for ages with no sign of one and then we get several at once!

The great thing about having so many people scrutinising our data from all around the world is that someone, somewhere will be the first to see something and we in the UK do not have to sit up all night wondering if something new is happening. We have seen how solar storms can be identified in near real-time with the ‘Incoming!’ game and now that ‘Trace it’ is up and running, you can help us make a more precise assessment of the speed and direction of each storm.

We intend to analyse your data as you process it. If enough of you agree that a storm is Earth-directed, we will then issue an automated alert on Twitter to ensure that scientists, aurora-watchers, spacecraft operators and astronauts can all benefit from the advanced warning that such a space-weather forecast will provide.

Thanks again for all your time, effort and enthusiasm,


New game ‘Trace It’ released along with more ‘Spot’ data

The long-awaited new game ‘Trace it’ is released today and represents a rolling up of the metaphorical sleeves as we seriously get into analysing the data from the NASA STEREO mission. Thanks to all your efforts with the ‘Spot’ game we have now identified the solar storms in the STEREO HI data up to February 2010. In ‘Trace it’, we use the information you gave us about the start time of these storms and mark these times on a more abstract data product that solar scientists call j-maps (the reasons are somewhat convoluted but we like to think ours are named after Jackie who is the person responsible for creating them).

Trace it example three - after

In these plots we have taken slices through a sequence of images and stacked them to produce a collage of distances versus time for each storm, which appears as gently curling lines on each j-map. We do this because the edges of storms are sometimes difficult to pick out in the images but the human brain is very good at picking out lines in an image. In ‘Trace it’ we ask you to mark points along each storm track. By running your points through our analysis programs here at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, we will be able to calculate a more precise speed and direction for each storm. Once you have become used to this new way of looking at the data, we want to move on to viewing the real-time data in the same way, and then the fun really begins 🙂

Don’t think we’ve finished with the ‘Spot’ game though, we have uploaded all the movies since February 2010 and, as you will have seen in the fuzzy real-time data, there have been quite a few new storms lately. You may have thought it was insanely active already but the Sun is only just beginning to wake up so hang on, it’s going to be an interesting ride and we need you more than ever if we are going to keep up!

Thanks again for your efforts so far,


My solar stormwatch

Now that many of you have been tracking solar storms for some time, we are starting to build up enough data to identify some storms from the large numbers of people identifying them. If your estimates have agreed with others, you should now have these events listed in the ‘My Solar Stormwatch’ area of your user account along with the names of all the other zooites that agreed with you. As we identify more storms we will be asking you to investigate each one in more detail in future games but in the meantime, allow yourself the self-indulgence of sitting back with a warm satisfied feeling that you are doing well or maybe even indulge in a virtual group-hug (amongst consenting zooites of course!). Whether you are included in a group or not, don’t stop clicking just yet though. If you are now a seasoned tracker or coming to the site for the very first time, there are still plenty of events out there that need more clicks before they can be positively identified. Thanks to your hard work and enthusiasm, we’re really starting to see some results!


We get a radical perspective when you work as a collective.

Thanks to everyone for their efforts so far. Now that we have had a significant number of storms tracked, we can start looking at the data in order to see how we are progressing but please carry on tracking those storms! I’ll let you know as soon as anything interesting turns up. I’ve been really impressed by the care, commitment and enthusiasm, especially on the solar stormwatch forum where any number of interesting discussions have broken out. So if you’ve a burning question you would like answered, or just wanted to drop by to say ‘hi’ there are threads from comets to force-shields, doughnuts to cat’s eyes as well as some fabulous stormwatch inspired art (my favourite so far being the homage to Andy Warhol). In my experience, there’s no such thing as a stupid question and the Zooniverse seems to be a place where innocent enquiries lead to real scientific discoveries that would otherwise be missed.