Space scientists want you to spot and track solar storms

Solar Stormwatch uses NASA satellites for crowd sourcing science project

It's not everyday you can get deeply involved in a space program by sitting at your computer.  Space scientists at The Royal Observatory, Greenwich have started up a crowd sourcing project that lets anyone with a PC spot and track solar storms. 

The project, known as Solar Stormwatch uses real data from NASA's STEREO (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory)satellites, which are currently in orbit around the Sun and provide researchers with constant details about activities on the Sun's surface.   NASA'S STEREO satellites --  one ahead of Earth in its orbit, the other trailing behind - were launched in 2006 and trace the flow of energy and matter from the Sun to Earth. 

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Scientists hope that mass participation in the Stormwatch project will let them keep track of and untangle data that it would take much longer to look at otherwise.  The more people who can do this process, the more we will be able to know about one of these storms and which direction it's going in and exactly how fast. The collective measurements by lots of people is worth a lot more than a subjective opinion of one person, said Chris Davis, a scientist with Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. 

Solar Stormwatch volunteers can spot these storms and track their progress across space towards the Earth, the group stated.   Such storms can be harmful to astronauts in orbit and have the potential to knock out communication satellites, disrupt mobile phone networks and damage power lines. With the public's help, Solar Stormwatch will let solar scientists better understand these potentially dangerous storms and help to forecast their arrival time at Earth, the group said. 

Solar Stormwatch is part of the Zooniverse network of projects.  The first Zooniverse project, Galaxy Zoo, involved more than 250,000 people in classifying galaxies for a team of astronomers. 

NASA is set to ramp up its coverage of the Sun too.  The space agency's  recently launched Solar Dynamics Observatory will deliver high resolution images of the Sun ten times better than the average High-Definition television to help scientists understand more about the Sun and its disruptive influence on services like communications systems on Earth. Specifically, NASA says the SDO will beam back 150 million bits of data per second, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That's almost 50 times more science data than any other mission in NASA history. 

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently got in on the space crowd sourcing act too.  The military research outfit is looking to groups "numbering in the hundreds, to thousands, to possibly millions of people worldwide" to develop what it calls crowd sourcing algorithms to discover new applications for its diminutive Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage, and Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) that operate inside the International Space Station. And of your application is accepted, DARPA says it might even name one of the SPERES satellites after your group. 

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