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A fluxgate magnetometer for measuring magnetic fields.
Image courtesy the Auroral Observatory of the University of Tromso, Norway.

Instruments & Techniques for Space Weather Measurements

How do scientists measure space weather? Let's take a look!

Scientists watch the Sun with special telescopes. Some of the telescopes are on Earth, while others are on satellites. Some of the telescopes are for normal, visible light, but others are for different kinds of electromagnetic radiation. Some telescopes watch infrared (IR), ultraviolet (UV), or even X-ray radiation coming from the Sun.

Solar astronomers use a coronagraph to view the Sun's atmosphere. They use spectroscopes to detect the different kinds of elements in the Sun. A new technique called "helioseismology" even lets scientists "see" inside the Sun!

The Sun gives off light, but it also shoots out radiation. When radiation particles from the Sun get to Earth, radiation detectors on satellites and on Earth measure their types and energy levels.

When radiation from the Sun hits Earth's atmosphere, the radiation can make the atmosphere "glow". The aurora, or Northern and Southern Lights, are an example of this. We can study such "glows" and take pictures of them from Earth or from space.

Some regions of Earth's atmosphere are electrically charged. The electrically charged regions are called the ionosphere. Space weather affects the ionosphere. Scientists study the ionosphere by bouncing radio waves off of it.

Magnetic fields are an important part of space weather. As space weather changes, the strengths and directions of magnetic fields change. Scientists use instruments called magnetometers to measure magnetic fields. There are magnetometers at many places on Earth. There are also magnetometers on satellites around Earth and even on spacecraft circling other planets or exploring different parts of our Solar System.

Last modified September 8, 2008 by Randy Russell.

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