The Center of Excellence in Space Sciences India (CESSI) at Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER), Kolkata, that conducts space weather research, assessment and forecast had predicted last week’s solar storm that destroyed 40 newly launched SpaceX starlink satellites. But it, along with other global agencies, failed to foresee the devastating impact of the tail of the solar storm.
“We had forecast the arrival of the solar storm on February 1-2. But unexpectedly, in the storm’s shadow was lurking another disturbance, which bombarded our space environment on February 3-4 with high-speed supersonic solar plasma winds. It is this twist in the storm’s tail coinciding with the vulnerable, low-altitude SpaceX Starlink satellites that led to their loss,” said CESSI head Dibyendu Nandi.
The Kolkata-based centre analyses satellite data from spacecraft in real time to assess space environmental conditions that satellites are subject to. It also develops computer models for predicting severe space weather.
This Indian facility is able to predict solar flares and arrival time and speeds of associated magnetic storms that impact earth. But predicting the full-structure of a solar storm as it passes through, or disturbances in the wake of a storm remains elusive.
This celestial event showed even a modest solar storm can have major impact. With solar activity forecast to peak in 2025, storms in space are expected to become more frequent and intense. Solar storms are accompanied by harmful radiation and carry vast amounts of magnetized plasma and energetic particles. The most intense storms can destroy satellites, disrupt space-based communication systems, GPS networks and flights. India is readying its first Sun observing satellite, Aditya-L1, one of whose goals is to study solar storms.
“Given the increasing reliance on modern day services supported by satellites with applications ranging from agriculture, weather, to communications, it is important to predict space weather. I am pleased a centre at IISER Kolkata is taking the lead in developing such space weather prediction capabilities,” said IISER director Sourav Pal.
Source: Times of India