Category Archives: Space Weather

Some scientists believe sun may be crossing into “magnetic middle age”

 (SILSO data/image, Royal Observatory of Belgium, Brussels)

(SILSO data/image, Royal Observatory of Belgium, Brussels)

I just received the following link to a Forbes article from my buddy Charlie (W4MEC).

If this research turns out to be correct–and time will only tell–it could mean very low solar activity from here on out (let’s hope not!):

(Source: Forbes Magazine via Charlie W4MEC)

The Sun has likely already entered into a new unpredicted long-term phase of its evolution as a hydrogen-burning main sequence star — one characterized by magnetic sputtering indicative of a more quiescent middle-age. Or so say the authors of a new paper submitted to The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Using observations of other sunlike stars made by NASA ’s Kepler Space Telescope, the team found that the Sun is currently in a special phase of its magnetic evolution.

At time of posting, the Sun has no Sun spots at all. The sun is blank--no sunspots, which means very low solar activity. Credit: SDO/HMI (Click to enlarge)

At time of posting (June 28, 2016) the Sun has no Sun spots at all, which means very low solar activity. Credit: SDO/HMI (Click to enlarge)

Heretofore, the Sun was thought to have been just a more slowly rotating version of a normal yellow dwarf (G-spectral type) star. These results offer the first real confirmation that the Sun is in the process of crossing into its magnetic middle age, where its 11-year Sunspot cycles are likely to slowly disappear entirely. That is, from here on out, the Sun is likely to have fewer sunspots than during the first half of its estimated 10 billion year life as a hydrogen-burning star.

“The Sun’s 11-year sunspot cycle is likely to disappear entirely, not just get less pronounced; [since] other stars with similar rotation rates show no sunspot cycles,” Travis Metcalfe, the paper’s lead author and an astronomer at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo., told me.[…]

Continue reading the full article at Forbes online.

Planning for a Carrington Event super solar storm


My buddy, Bill Forstchen, is author of NY Times best seller, One Second After (and many other books). One day, we met for lunch and I admitted to him that I’m less worried about an EMP attack (the catalyst for writing his novel) than I am a powerful solar storm, like the Carrington Event. Bill, you see, is a huge advocate for having our power grid and emergency services prepared/”hardened” for either of these two events.

Last week, I was impressed to see that the White House released a multi-agency plan and strategy to prepare for a severe space weather event.

WashingtonPostLogoThe Washington Post published a summary:

At some point in our lifetimes, the sun could unleash a dangerous surge of magnetically-charged plasma that could severely damage or destroy critically important electric power systems, satellites, spacecraft and telecommunications.

The White House, realizing that an extreme solar storm could jeopardize the nation’s vitality and security, released a strategy and multi-agency plan on Thursday to prepare for and coordinate responses to the space weather threat.

[…]In 2012, NASA said the sun unleashed two massive clouds of plasma that barely missed a catastrophic encounter with Earth. “If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces,” physicist Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado told NASA two years after it happened.

[…]The most severe documented solar storm to impact Earth, known as the Carrington Event, occurred in September 1859, well before today’s power grid and network of satellites existed.

During the Carrington event, the northern lights were seen as far south as Cuba and Hawaii, according to historical accounts. The solar eruption “caused global telegraph lines to spark, setting fire to some telegraph offices,” NASA noted.

A National Academy of Sciences study in 2008 said a similar event happening today could produce a devastating economic impact exceeding $2 trillion, 20 times the cost of Hurricane Katrina.

A key component of the White House plan is to establish benchmarks for space weather events.  “They provide a point of reference from which to improve the understanding of space weather effects, develop more effective mitigation procedures, enhance response and recovery planning and understand risk,” the plan says.

Some recent studies have shown that there is historical evidence of the sun producing “superflares,” or flares 1,000 times larger than what has been observed in modern times.

[…]The 2008 National Academy of Sciences report said power outages after an extreme solar storm could last months or longer, since transformers take a long time to replace. A report from North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) from 2012, on behalf of the industry, was not as dire, noting that geomagnetic storms are more likely to cause blackouts and short-term power loss rather than such sustained damage.

This is just an excerpt–I encourage you to read the full article on the Washington Post website.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) also published the following fact sheet, outlining a space weather action plan:

FACT SHEET: New Actions to Enhance National Space-Weather Preparedness

Space-weather events are naturally occurring phenomena in the space environment that have the potential to disrupt technologies and systems in space and on Earth. These phenomena can affect satellite and airline operations, communications networks, navigation systems, the electric power grid, and other technologies and infrastructures critical to the daily functioning, economic vitality, and security of our Nation. That’s why today, the Administration is releasing a National Space Weather Strategy and National Space Weather Action Plan and announcing new commitments from the Federal and non-Federal sectors to enhance national preparedness for space-weather events.

National Space Weather Strategy and National Space Weather Action Plan

Over the last several years, both industry and the Federal government have played an active role in maintaining and advancing the Nation’s ability to forecast and mitigate the various impacts of space weather. These actions include taking steps to replace aging satellite assets essential to monitoring and forecasting space weather, proposing space-weather standards for both the national and international air space, developing regulations to ensure the continued operation of the electric grid during an extreme space weather event, proposing a new option for replacing crucial Extra High Voltage (EHV) transformers damaged by space weather, and developing domestic production sources for EHV transformers.

Yet gaps remain in our capacity to understand, model, predict, respond to, and recover from space-weather events. The newly released National Space Weather Strategy (Strategy) and Space Weather Action Plan (Action Plan) were developed by an interagency group of experts, with input from stakeholders outside of the Federal government, to clearly articulate how the Federal government will work to fill these gaps by coordinating, integrating, and expanding existing policy efforts; engaging a broad range of sectors; and collaborating with international counterparts. The Strategy identifies goals and establishes the guiding principles that will guide these efforts in both the near and long term, while the Action Plan identifies specific activities, outcomes, and timelines that the Federal government will pursue accordingly. The Action Plan broadly aligns with investments proposed in the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2016 and will be reevaluated and updated within 3 years of the date of publication or as needed.

Taken together, the Strategy and Action Plan will facilitate the integration of spaceweather considerations into Federal planning and decision making to achieve preparedness levels consistent with national policies, and enhance the resilience of critical technologies infrastructures to the potentially debilitating effects of space weather on the people, economy, and security of the United States.

Supporting Commitments to Enhance Space-Weather Preparedness

Today, Federal agencies and non-Federal entities are announcing new actions to support the Strategy and Action Plan and further enhance national space-weather preparedness.

Releasing New Space Environment Data. The U.S. Air Force (USAF), in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), will provide Space Environment Data from the current GPS constellation and other U.S. Government satellites. This data could be used to validate space-weather forecast models, potentially enhancing space-weather prediction capabilities. As a first step, USAF and NOAA will make data from January 2014 – a month characterized by a high level of solar activity – freely available on, providing an opportunity for users to explore the scientific value of the data. Within three months of this release, the Office of Science and Technology Policy will chair an interagency group to evaluate the utility of the released data and to determine if the open data archive should be expanded to include additional historical and near real-time data.

Launching a Space Weather Data Initiative. In accordance with President Obama’s Executive Order on making open and machine-readable the new default for government information, as well as on demonstrated successes of unleashing innovation and technology for disaster response and recovery, the Administration will launch a Space Weather Data Initiative. The goals of this Initiative are to (1) make easily accessible and freely available on an unprecedented amount of space weatherrelated data; (2) engage with the private sector and the open-data community to leverage the open data and promote the development of data-driven tools, applications, and technology to enhance space-weather preparedness; and (3) expand U.S. Government capacity for using open data, innovation, and technology to support effective and efficient response to and recovery from space-weather events.

Increasing International Collaboration. To strengthen international coordination and cooperation on space-weather preparedness, the Department of State will organize workshops and meetings in Washington, DC with embassy staff from a multitude of nations. These workshops and meetings will provide an opportunity for other countries to learn more about the purpose and goals of the National Space Weather Strategy and accompanying Action Plan; ensure that policymakers in and leaders of partner nations recognize space weather as a global challenge; and facilitate the sustained, coordinated participation of partner nations in relevant international space-weather initiatives.

Including Space Weather in Transportation “Fundamentals” Reports. Space weather can affect communication and navigation systems that are critical for safe and efficient transportation systems. By incorporating space-weather considerations into two reports that provide comprehensive and up-to-date guidance on the major elements of a state’s all-hazards transportation security and emergency management program – Security 101: A Physical Security Primer for Transportation, and A Guide to Emergency Response Planning at State Transportation Agencies –officials will have the information they need to incorporate space-weather considerations into transportation-security guidelines and emergency-response plans. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) – a nonprofit association representing highway and transportation departments in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico – will ensure that space weather is included in the next edition of these two AASHTO Special Committee on Transportation Security and Emergency Management “fundamentals” reports.

Incorporating Space Weather into Emergency-Management Training and Activities. Space-weather events can, directly or indirectly, cause or exacerbate major disasters or emergencies, and can interfere with or impair disaster response, relief, and recovery efforts. The National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) – a professional association of and for emergency management directors, dedicated to enhancing public safety by improving the nation’s ability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from all emergencies and disasters – will increase training and education related to space weather. Specifically, NEMA will:

  • Partner with the International Association of Emergency Managers to host a
    space-weather focused webinar for members of both groups, reaching up to 1200
    state and local emergency managers, and others working in the emergencymanagement
  • Incorporate space weather into training and education opportunities for newly
    appointed state emergency management directors; and
  • Incorporate space weather into the NEMA Homeland Security Committee’s
    policy focus on infrastructure resilience.

Raising Awareness of Space Weather in the Aviation Sector. As part of their commitment to promote safety, security and a healthy U.S. airline industry, Airlines for America – America’s largest airline trade association – will work with member carriers and their affiliates to educate the community on space weather and its effects on aviation, which include degradation or loss of satellite navigation signals and radio transmissions for communication.

Met Office guide to space weather forecasts


Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mike (K8RAT), who writes:

The Met Office has this brief introduction to the subject of space weather and the methods they use to make predictions. It may be useful to beginners in the radio hobby.

This download is found on The Met Office’s forecast page:

They are not giving us any good news regarding the next couple of days on HF.

Click here to download the Met Office guide: “Space Weather: Find out more about how we forecast space weather” (PDF).

It might not be your radio: poor propagation


Lately, I’ve had a number of emails from new readers that read something like this:

“I just purchased a new portable shortwave receiver, but I can’t seem to hear anything on it other than the strongest of stations. Should I return this radio? Am I doing something wrong?”

The SWLing Post attracts a lot of new shortwave listeners–which is terrific–but there’s nothing worse than being excited about a new hobby (and new radio) only to find that you can’t hear much of anything.

But right now, it may not be your fault–nor your radio’s.


Propagation conditions don’t get much worse than this.

There are many factors that influence what you can receive, so I typically send new listeners to this article, which is full of tips to help you get the most out of your radio.

But lately, even if you follow all of these handy tips, you may still find it difficult to receive distant stations–especially during daytime hours. The fact is, for the past few weeks, we’ve been experiencing fairly dismal shortwave radio propagation conditions.

How can we tell?  Well, the K index–a scale from 0 to 9 which indicates the magnitude of geomagnetic storms–“K0” equating a quiet magnetic field, while “K9” indicates extreme storms–has risen to K6 and even K7 for the past two days, unusually high, indeed. The result? In radio terms, such unsettled conditions mean that shortwave signals simply can’t effectively propagate across the globe.  To add insult to injury, sun spot numbers–which can indicate effective radio propagation–have also been somewhat low.

I understand how Post readers are feeling.  I’ve been particularly sensitive to the crippling effects of the geomagnetism during this weak cycle, as I’ve been attempting to hear the elusive Radio Nacional Arcángel San Gabriel in Antartica…alas, not really possible right now.

Should we just give up, then, letting the sun and geomagnetism rule the day–? Not at all!  Typically, these periods come and go within a matter of weeks.  No worries, readers; you’ll soon find that your radios work just fine.  In fact, at the conclusion of poor solar conditions, there are often excellent band openings…

The take-away here?  Just stay tuned!  Better listening conditions await.

G4-class geomagnetic storm in progress

(Source: NASA) The geomagnetic storm began as forecasted and quickly ramped up to severe (G4)  levels.  In Europe watchers should be looking for the aurora now and there is hope for those over the US tonight.

(Source: NASA) The geomagnetic storm began as forecasted and quickly ramped up to severe (G4) levels. In Europe watchers should be looking for the aurora now and there is hope for those over the US tonight.

Depending on where you live, this G4 geomagnetic storm may completely disrupt the HF band conditions. From

SEVERE GEOMAGNETIC STORM IN PROGRESS: A severe G4-class geomagnetic storm is in progress on June 22nd. This follows a series of rapid-fire CME strikes to Earth’s magnetic field during the past 24 hours. Magnetic fields in the wake of the latest CME are strongly coupled to Earth’s own magnetic field. This is a condition that could sustain the geomagnetic storm for many hours to come. High- and mid-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras tonight, especially during the hours around local midnight.

On the up side, after this is over, there may be some excellent, short-term band openings. My buddy, David Goren, also reminds us that this is a good time to keep an eye on the broadcast bands for auroral conditions.