Over 16 years of space-weather data collected by government GPS satellites was made available to the public Monday, Jan. 30. The Los Alamos National Laboratory, which released the data, called it “a treasure trove of measurements (scientists) can use to better understand how space weather works and how best to protect critical infrastructure.” The cache of information was described as an unprecedented amount of data and had never been done before in history.
The cache of data was released to enable the scientific community to better model and improve space-weather forecasting, the Lab said.
The 23 GPS satellites from which the data was collected detect charged particles, mostly electrons and protons, emitted during coronal mass ejections from the Sun. The particles enter Earth’s atmosphere and become trapped, creating the Van Allen radiation belt. The Van Allen belt oscillates in size and intensity depending on the what rides in on the solar wind.
The magnificent spectacle of the Aurora Borealis, also called the Northern Lights, is the result of those charged particles colliding with gases in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. As beautiful as it is, an onslaught of charged particles from solar flares can interfere with satellite and air traffic control systems, telecommunications and even life-saving medical equipment, the Los Alamos Laboratory press release said.
GPS sensor data is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.