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The Ulysses spacecraft studies the Sun.
NASA

How Scientists Study Space Weather

Scientists combine various techniques to study space weather. Earth-based and orbiting telescopes constantly observe the Sun in many different wavelengths. Both satellites and ground-based instruments contribute readings of space weather features such as particle densities, magnetic field strengths, and radiation intensities. Scientists develop complex mathematical models based on the laws of physics to predict behaviors of space weather systems. Space physicists have also developed metrics, such as sunspot counts, to quantitatively describe variations in space weather.

Because of the complexity of space weather systems, scientists often use models to try to understand and predict the systems. Some models describe the Sun, others interplanetary space, and still others cover the Earth's magnetosphere or its upper atmosphere. Sophisticated computer software crunches the numbers generated by these models so scientists can compare their predictions with observed events.

We have only been making direct observations of the Sun and space weather phenomena using telescopes, satellites, and other sophisticated instruments for a relatively short period of time. The Sun, however, has been around for several billion years. Scientist use various "proxy" techniques to estimate levels of solar and space weather activity in prehistoric times and in more recent eras prior to the space age.

Last modified August 12, 2008 by Randy Russell.

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