A distant satellite called DSCVR is now sending information about potentially damaging space weather back to Earth, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) announced last week.
Ejections from the sun cause the aurora borealis we see on Earth, but it can also disrupt services like GPS, power grids, and telecommunications. The DSCVR satellite is a million miles from Earth— and 92 million from the Sun— and stays in between the two bodies, measuring the weather from the Sun headed towards Earth.
“DSCOVR’s sensors measure the speed, density and temperature of the solar wind, and the strength and direction of the strong magnetic field as storms approach Earth, giving space weather forecasters better information with which to issue critical space weather warnings and alerts,” NOAA said in a statement. The information it sends back is received at the agency’s Space Weather Prediction Center.
NOAA also said that a new model in development will help them provide more accurate forecasts for how space weather could affect different parts of the world, and not just the globe as a whole.
The satellite— actually an older craft that was refurbished for this mission— was launched in February, 2015, and also has a NASA camera on it called EPIC that takes pictures of the Earth. In late July, NASA released a stirring video that shows a timelapse of the planet, comprised of images taken over a year. Because the satellite is in between the Earth and the Sun, our planet is completely illuminated in these images.
Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger