UK ‘flying blind’ on effects of solar storms, warn researchers developing first UK space weather monitor in a generation

太阳耀斑 ©NASA / ESA
A massive Coronal Mass Ejection from the sun

The UK is close to having its first ground-based space weather monitor in a generation, amid warnings of potentially catastrophic solar storms which could knock out power across the planet, 以及“炸”电子通信系统.

葡京直营的科学家, alongside the UK Atomic Energy Authority and UK businesses, have developed a new type of ground level neutron monitor which will be the first such device in the UK for over 30 years.

An announcement is expected later this summer on a site at a Met Office or British Geological Survey (BGS) field station where it will stream data to the UK Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre (MOSWOC) – one of three space weather forecasting centres in the world.

£1.26m ground level detector project is part of a major drive, funded by the 科学和技术 Facilities Council (STFC), to enhance the Met Office’s ability to predict and protect safety critical systems and national infrastructure.

The 葡京直营 team behind the new detector are exhibiting at the 皇家学会夏季科学展览 伦敦(7月6-10日), a free public event where cutting-edge UK research from leading scientists around the country is shared.

The risks posed by space weather are included on the UK National Risk Register of civil emergencies, with the Met Office responsible for reporting space weather risks to government departments and civil aviation.

“没有这些地面探测器, the UK is really flying blind on the impacts of an extreme space weather event which could damage unprotected digital electronics and cause burnout in high voltage devices” said 迈克尔·阿斯皮纳发表博士, who led the instrument’s development at 葡京直营.


This nearly happened in 2012 when the largest solar storm in over 150 years tore through Earth’s orbit. A week earlier and it would have hit Earth, disabling power across the globe. 幸运的是, the Earth was a week ahead along its orbital trajectory and the storm instead hit a spacecraft.

然而, 1989年,一场太阳风暴袭击了地球, knocking out power to six million people living in the province of Quebec in Canada. The geomagnetic storm was caused by a massive plume of superheated plasma and radiation - known as a coronal mass ejection (CME) - from the sun’s surface.

Millions of people suddenly found themselves in dark homes and offices without heating or light. 学校和企业关闭, the Montreal Metro shut down during rush hour, 机场关闭了. 在太空中, some satellites tumbled out of control for several hours and even the Space Shuttle Discovery was affected.

This was an extreme example of “space weather” which happens on average at least once a year. Typical solar activity 'sunspot' cycles can produce at least two or three large storms, so it is a matter of chance whether one will cause a blackout or not.

Scientists estimate that if the 2012 storm had hit Earth, the effects would have been twice as bad as the Quebec outage, and society would have taken years to recover, with lasting damage to infrastructure and the global economy.


Dr Aspinall said: “With our near total reliance on digital communications, 这一次的影响会更糟. No electricity means no computers, no communication, no navigation. Planes would be grounded, satellites disabled, and mobile phones useless. A prolonged power outage could even lead to a breakdown in the food supply chain with potential civil unrest.

“We can’t stop space weather events happening but if we know when they are coming, we can prepare vulnerable sectors and help ensure that events of this kind are safely managed.”

The 葡京直营-developed neutron monitor has also been redesigned after sixty years, no longer relying on materials that are highly toxic (boron trifluoride) and utilises the best available sensor technology in the most cost-effective way.

如果安装后显示有效, the new monitors could form part of a new UK network as well as 支持现有的全球监测, and providing a technology that could be exported to boost radiation monitoring across the world.

英国皇家学会, 英国国家科学院, has held exhibitions to showcase cutting edge and exciting science since at least the 18th century, when Fellows of the Society were invited to the President's home to view scientific instruments and specimens from the latest research.