Shop Windows to the Universe

Our Glaciers: Then and Now activity kit helps you see the changes taking place in glaciers around the world. See all our activity kits and classroom activities.
This radar dish at the Sondrestrom Observatory in Greenland is used to study the ionosphere.

Ground-based Observations of Space Weather

Spacecraft help us observe and measure space weather. We also make some kinds of space weather measurements from the surface of Earth. Satellites are better for some kinds of observations. However, observations made from the ground have advantages too. Instruments on the ground are much less expensive and are much easier to fix than instruments on satellites. Also, some observations have been made from Earth for many, many years, so we have a long history of measurements. Records of sunspots are a good example of this. Observations from spacecraft, on the other hand, only go back a few decades or less.

Watching the Sun from Earth

Astronomers have used special telescopes to view the Sun for centuries. They have kept records of sunspot counts for a long time. They have also observed the Sun's corona (part of its atmosphere) during total eclipses of the Sun. Scientists also use spectroscopes, instruments that break sunlight up into different colors, to learn about the elements in the Sun. Some telescopes that are high up in mountains can even "see" infrared (IR) "light" from the Sun. Coronagraphs, instruments that make artificial eclipses, help us study the Sun's atmosphere.

Northern Lights and Southern Lights - the Aurora

When space weather storms hit Earth's atmosphere, they create a glow in the sky we call the aurora (or Southern or Northern Lights). People have observed aurora for many years. Those observations give us a record of space weather storms that goes far back in time. Aurora watchers can notice how bright an aurora is and how long it lasts. This helps us know how strong a space weather storm is.

Using Radio Waves to Observe the Ionosphere

Space weather causes changes in Earth's atmosphere. Instruments on Earth help us keep track of how the atmosphere changes. One part of the atmosphere, the ionosphere, has lots of electrically charged particles in it. Stations on the ground work with satellites to beam radio waves through the ionosphere. The particles in the ionosphere affect the radio signals, allowing scientists to measure the ionosphere. They can see how the ionosphere changes as space weather changes.

Measuring Magnetic Fields around the Globe

The solar wind carries the Sun's magnetic field, which is called the Interplanetary Magnetic Field (IMF), with it. When the IMF gets to Earth, it combines with Earth's own magnetic field. Scientists use many magnetometers around the globe to measure the combined magnetic field. When these measurements change, we know that space weather is changing, too.

Last modified May 11, 2006 by Jennifer Bergman.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

Our online store includes books on science education, ranging from evolution, classroom research, and the need for science and math literacy!

Windows to the Universe Community



You might also be interested in:

How do Satellites & Spacecraft Monitor Space Weather?

Satellites and other spacecraft help us observe space weather. They collect data about the Sun, Earth's magnetosphere, Earth's atmosphere, and space weather throughout the rest of our Solar System. Spacecraft...more

History of Sunspot Observations

You may not know that humans have observed sunspots for a very long time. These records have been around so long in fact, that we can link sunspot number with solar activity. Large sunspots can sometimes...more

Solar Storms

You know, of course, that certain conditions in the Earth's atmosphere can cause powerful storms like thunderstorms, blizzards, tornadoes, and hurricanes. The Sun also has an atmosphere, and incredible...more


IMF stands for Interplanetary Magnetic Field. It is another name for the Sun's magnetic field. The Sun's magnetic field is huge! It goes beyond any of the planets. The Sun's magnetic field got its name...more

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...more

The Sun and the Solar Atmosphere

What are the "parts" of the Sun? The photosphere is the visible "surface" of the Sun. The three regions of the solar interior are the core, the radiative zone, and the uppermost convective...more

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...more

How does Space Weather affect Earth and Human Society?

Although space weather forecasts are not normally featured on the evening news, space weather does impact life on Earth in many ways. Our modern, technologically complex systems - including communications,...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA