Space Weather Lab

The newly opened Catholic University Space Weather Center (SWC) is a fully functional research and real-time analyses center dedicated to scientific investigations and forecasting of extreme space weather events – violent physical processes around the Earth driven by storms on the Sun.

Space weather events present a growing hazard to human technologies and society by disrupting satellite communications and navigation systems, damaging power grids, exposing astronauts to a harsh radiation environment, and causing an array of other detrimental effects in space and on the ground. Understanding the physics of such events has become a priority of NASA science programs which welcome contributions from educational institutions.  Space weather has gained recent high-level attention, leading to the release of the space weather action plan by the Office of Science and Technology Policy at The White House.

SWC will enable scientific investigations of extreme space weather events associated with major solar flares, large coronal mass ejections, solar energetic particle events, and intense geomagnetic perturbations and their ionospheric footprints. Data-driven simulations and an advanced statistical analysis of past events will be used to produce student-generated experimental space weather forecasts which will be posted online and disseminated throughout the space weather research community.

The Catholic University of America’s SWC will build on the existing partnership links between Catholic University and NASA Goddard SFC making full use of the scientific and computational resources and analysis tools available through Goddard’s Community Coordinated Modeling Center and NASA space science data archives and software packages. SWC will take this collaboration to a new level by providing on-campus research capabilities which are compatible with space weather analyses at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and open to joint investigations involving Catholic University and NASA researchers. Space weather processes can only be addressed through a fundamental understanding of plasma physics. Often referred to as the fourth state of matter, magnetized plasma is ubiquitous in the universe and is responsible for phenomena as diverse as solar flares and aurora.

SWS will also offer unique training opportunities in space weather and plasma science for undergraduate and graduate students participating in space weather forecasting and research. It will proceed with a range of innovative educational initiatives including a new science course focused on space weather effects, a space weather seminar, and cutting-edge research projects for Catholic University undergrads.

Image courtesy of NASA