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tracking space storms


For most of the time the solar wind hitting the Earth is relatively slow and uneventful. Sometimes patches of fast wind interfere with the slow wind and that can cause a space storm. These storms can cause aurorae and other stormy space weather.


To see how fast a space storm is travelling I need a telescope, but it's not what you might think of as a telescope. Because I receive radio waves from space, my telescope looks more like a satellite dish than an optical telescope. It's similar to the one you might have to receive TV signals, but it's huge!


Look at this photograph of one of the telescopes I use. This one's in Sodankyla in Finland and the cars give you an idea of scale. As the car on the left is 2m high, you can work out the diameter of this dish.


I need to use such a large telescope because the signals from the stars are so faint. What's more, I need to use at least two of them.


When I see a star twinkle with one telescope, I can also see it twinkle with the other, but at a different time. mouse over arrow I know how far apart the two telescopes are and how much time elapsed between the two telescopes detecting the same event. From that I can work out how fast the compression region in the solar wind is travelling.


The telescopes I work with are all part of a project called EISCAT. To find out more about the project, the telescopes we use and how we forecast storms in space, check out the SunTrek Factary.




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