Monday, July 21, 2008

NSF Awards Grant to Track 'Space Weather' in Earth's Near-Space Environment

Global and real-time "space weather" observations of near-Earth space--and the solar storms that can knock out electric power grids--is about to happen for the first time, thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Scientists at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., have been awarded an NSF grant to perform an experiment called the Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment (AMPERE).
AMPERE will use the Iridium constellation of communications satellites to measure the electric currents that link Earth's atmosphere and space. By measuring this key component of the space weather system, AMPERE will allow 24/7 tracking of Earth's response to supersonic blasts of plasma ejected from the sun.
"Earth's space environment can completely reconfigure in as little as 30 minutes," says APL's Brian Anderson, lead scientist on AMPERE. "With a new ability to continually monitor these electric currents, we can track the transformations of our planet's space environment for the first time, and gain a new understanding of how Earth reacts to the sun."
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