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.

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

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...more

Electromagnetic Radiation

Electromagnetic radiation is the result of oscillating electric and magnetic fields. The wave of energy generated by such vibrations moves through space at the speed of light. And well it should... for...more

The Solar Corona

Rising above the Sun's chromosphere , the temperature jumps sharply from a few tens of thousands of kelvins to as much as a few million kelvins in the Sun's outer atmosphere, the solar corona. Understanding...more

Element (Chemical Element)

An element (also called a "chemical element") is a substance made up entirely of atoms having the same atomic number; that is, all of the atoms have the same number of protons. Hydrogen, helium, oxygen,...more


Radiation comes in two basic types: electromagnetic radiation transmitted by photons, and particle radiation consisting of electrons, protons, alpha particles, and so forth. Electromagnetic radiation,...more

Particle Radiation

One main type of radiation, particle radiation, is the result of subatomic particles hurtling at tremendous speeds. Protons, cosmic rays, and alpha and beta particles are some of the most common types...more

Radio Waves

Radio waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation. A radio wave has a much longer wavelength than does visible light. We use radio waves extensively for communications. Radio waves have wavelengths as...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