Artificial intelligence captures Sun’s varying atmospheric conditions
Solar flares and coronal mass ejections have long been associated with rapid releases of free magnetic energy stored in Sun’s powerful fields. Such violently energetic events can have a devastating impact on the Sun-Earth system in phenomena known as “space weather”. Our modern-day world ever-increasingly dependent on space and ground-based technology – however, this is highly vulnerable to hazardous space weather events.
Fortunately, solar physics has entered the big data era, meaning incomprehensibly huge quantities of data constantly produced by ground- and space-based observatories can now be monitored by artificial intelligence.
Solar data delivery is the biggest project of our times in terms of total information produced
Tatiana Podladchikova, an assistant professor at the Skoltech Space Center (SSC) and research co-author, believes continuous monitoring of the Sun is consequently now best left in the hands of machines.
She told Express.co.uk of the importance of gaining “stable classification and quantification” of solar images.
Professor Podladchikova said: “Modern solar observations are carried out in an autonomous way, covering multiple filter bands and producing a high-cadence output stream that needs to be accessible for monitoring and scientific use within minutes.
“While continuous observation provides a clear benefit, such as for example the permanent monitoring of the Sun, automatic and robust methods are necessary to ensure image quality in the large data streams before they are passed on for further scientific analysis, as well as for real-time detection of solar events (flares, filament eruptions, etc).
AI has been harnessed to monitor ‘hazardous extreme space weather’
There are several reasons why solar observations require such AI investment
“This is in particular necessary for ground-based solar observations, which are subject to varying seeing conditions
Especially when dealing with ground-based observations, which are subject to varying seeing conditions, clouds, atmospheric turbulence, the limited observation time due to the day-night cycle and the weather for a given location, the quality assessment has to take multiple effects into account and provide information about the affected regions.
“The automatic and robust identification of quality-degrading effects and anomalies is critical for maximising the scientific return from the observations, for the solar event detections in real-time, and for future new generation network telescopes, where observations from multiple sites need to be filtered and combined in real-time into the continuous, unified and high-quality observing data product for permanent tracking of solar activity.”
The Skoltech Space Center analyst added there are several reasons why solar observations require such investment.
The Sun’s corona is an aura of plasma extending millions of miles into outer space
She said: “Every single second the Sun turns 600 million tons of hydrogen into helium, converting four million tons of matter into energy.
“This energy is the main source of light and heat, giving life to everything on Earth.
“At the same time, the Sun is the source of powerful emissions and space weather, which impacts technological systems as well as humans—both in space and on Earth.
“Today our life and our society strongly rely on modern technology, satellite systems for communication, navigation, Earth/weather/climate observations, catastrophe management, economic transactions, etc, which is highly vulnerable to hazardous space weather events.
“Today, humanity is entering a new era in space exploration and the development of new technologies.
“We send our spaceships farther away from Earth to the Moon, asteroids, and other planets.
“We are going beyond near-Earth space and are heading towards deep space.
“Accurate knowledge of space weather will ensure the safety of people and equipment on Earth, in the solar system, and in deep space.
“Currently, there are more than 4,000 spacecraft orbiting Earth. During powerful solar events 1000 satellites can fail, powerful particle bombardment eats up and destroys the satellite’s electronic organs.
“Thus during high solar activity the sensitive equipment of spacecraft could be turned off.
“This is also a good reason for stopping satellite manoeuvres and adjusting satellite orbits. One of the big risks is related to so called galactic cosmic rays.
“These are very energetic particles that come to us from our and other galaxies and hit the solar panels of a geostationary satellite.
“As a result, the solar panels are destroyed and satellites can fall back to Earth.”
Us on Earth are lucky to enjoy the natural protection of our planet’s magnetic field but astronauts in open space during powerful solar events are under a strong radiation risk.
Every single second the Sun turns 600 million tons of hydrogen into helium
In August 1972, the Sun released one of the most powerful solar flares in between the Apollo 16 and Apollo 17 visits to the moon and any astronauts in space during such a flare would have received lethal radiation exposure.
Variations in the magnetic field during geomagnetic storms create geomagnetically induced currents that affect all long conducting ground-based technological systems such as power plants, railways, and pipelines.
Professor Podladchikova said the impact on power systems can be very severe.
She said: “Induced currents flow into the grounding of the power plants and destroy the entire infrastructure from inside.
“This happened in Canada in 1989 when a powerful geomagnetic storm collapsed an entire power grid and caused a mass blackout.”
And she added one of the strongest Space Weather events occurred in 1859 when the induced geomagnetic storm collapsed the whole telegraph system in North America and Europe.
She said: “In those days, it was the main means of communication for business and personal contacts. If such an event occurs today, then modern devices are in no way protected.
“We may find ourselves without electricity, television, Internet, radio communications, which would lead to significant and cascading effects in many areas of our life.
“Only a few years ago, in July 2012, an outburst of energy comparable to the event in the 19th century occurred on the Sun, but we were lucky because these outbursts did not touch the Earth.
“According to some experts, the damage from such an extreme event could cost up to several trillion dollars and the restoration of infrastructure and the economy could take up to 10 years.”
The Sun’s coronal loops shot by NASA’s Transition Region and Coronal Explorer
The scientist added her research has potentially opened-up an entirely new chapter for solar science.
She told Express.co.uk: “Solar data delivery is the biggest project of our times in terms of total information produced.
“We receive a lot of valuable data every day. However, most of the information is lost because we cannot process the data efficiently enough.
“The development of novel efficient AI-aided data processing methods opens a new chapter not only for solar science but also for many other interdisciplinary applications to deal with the biggest challenges facing humankind.
“Bringing together the forefront of research with applications, the delivery of new public and commercial services, would, in its turn, drive the innovation, development of new technologies, and national economic development.”