In "It's a Lovely Day in Outer Space," Wired News says that "scientists are inching closer to unlocking one of meteorology's most intractable problems: how the sun's activity affects the climate on earth."
Dermot McGrath reports from Paris.
Scientists have long known that long-term climate changes and day-to-day weather patterns are linked to the sun's activity. Making sense of those connections, however, has mostly proven elusive.
Thanks to a cooperative effort by space agencies and research laboratories around the world, a new type of weather forecast could soon be making its debut -- the space-weather bulletin.
Researchers have long known that for the sun to affect the earth's weather, the sun's behavior must vary in some way. At visible wavelengths, the sun is remarkably constant, but satellite data show that there are dramatic changes going on beyond this narrow range.
The author then scrutinizes coronal mass ejections, or CMEs.
Solar events that can affect the weather on earth include coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, huge bubbles of electrified gas that travel at 1,000 times the speed of a Concorde airplane and contain more mass than Mount Everest.
"Coronal mass ejections are the hurricanes of space," said Nancy Crooker, an astronomy professor at Boston University's Center for Space Physics. "They have strong magnetic fields that link to the earth's field, thus breaching the shield that otherwise protects us from the onslaught of the solar wind."
Dermot McGrath explains why it's more important than before to monitor the sun's activity.
Space-weather experts say the sun needs to be monitored more closely than ever because modern systems such as cellular telephone networks, pagers, and the global positioning system used for airline navigation, are much more vulnerable to solar disturbances than older technology.
Finally, he looks at efforts done by many institutions around the world to tackle this problem, including the National Science Foundation, the NASA or the European Space Agency (ESA).
The full article contains many more details than this summary. So read it if you're interested.
Source: Dermot McGrath, Wired News, January 1, 2003
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