Welcome to the Sun Earth Plan Website
2007-8 marks the 50th Anniversary of the International Geophysical Year, 1957-58. One of the memorable events during IGY was the launch of Sputnik in 1957, the world’s first artificial satellite. IGY heralded the modern space era.
This year, scientists and engineers from all 191 Member States of the United Nations are participating in an international campaign to learn more about the Earth, the Sun and our environment. 2007-8 has been designated the International Heliophysical Year, or IHY. (Helios was the ancient Greek name for the Sun.) A key objective of IHY is to celebrate the beauty, relevance and significance of space and Earth sciences to the world.
The UK hosts a vibrant solar-terrestrial physics (STP) community with an enviably high profile in the international research arena. They are also involved in a dazzling array of space research projects, from earth orbiting satellites and ground-based experiments to far-ranging planetary probes and landers. SUN EARTH PLAN celebrates Britain’s pivotal role in space science.
How the Sun’s influence reaches across the entire Solar System.
The near-Earth region of space is seething with invisible magnetic fields.
The electrically charged layer of our atmosphere lying at the boundary of space.
How UK space scientists investigate other planets and moons in our solar system.
"Will it be possible to see the aurora from Kent tonight (17 Feb 2011)?"
Roger, Kent, UK
The last time we had aurora clearly visible from northern England (Lancaster) was in January 2005 and that followed an X-ray solar flare classed as an X7.
On Tuesday 15 Feb 2011 (at about 2am) we had the biggest solar X-ray flare that we have had for something like 4 years. It was an X2 class flare, that means the energy flux was greater than 0.002 Watts per square metre.
This flare was accompanied by a coronal mass ejection, which is currently travelling through interplanetary space and our best guess is that it is heading straight towards Earth. If and when it hits it could trigger a geomagnetic storm. If the CME has a large southward magnetic field component it might lead to conditions ripe for aurora over mid-latitudes (i.e. the UK).
The important words there are 'if', 'might' and 'could'. Nothing is guaranteed although this is the best chance for quite some time. The CME is still yet to strike so we don't know how big a storm we might experience; however it will need to be a severe storm for the northern lights to be visible from Kent and I suspect that is unlikely. The timing of the impact is also not favourable as it is likely to hit around 9 GMT on the 18th February - daylight!
I suspect that if any aurora is to be seen from the UK for this event it will be from Scotland or Northern Ireland. But this recent activity is an indication that solar activity is increasing as the next next solar maximum (2013) approaches, so the chances of seeing the aurora over the UK will continue to increase for the next couple of years.
Dr Andrew Kavanagh, Physics Department, Lancaster University.