Community Spectro-Polarimetric Analysis Center – CSAC

Tools & expertise to understand the Sun’s magnetic atmosphere & impacts

Sun's corona, as seen by the NCAR CoMP instrument, Mauna Loa Solar ObservatoryPrint-friendly PDF

Summer 2015

I. Description

Space weather has the capacity to wreak havoc on Earth. Impacts range from taking down the nation’s electrical grid, to interfering with satellite positioning and communications, to adversely affecting the health of astronauts in space and airline passengers and crews on the polar flight paths that save time and energy. These realities make a strong case for improving our ability to predict solar disruptions, space weather, and their impacts on Earth.

The chromosphere, a vibrant layer of the Sun's atmosphere where most of the Sun's volatile activity occurs, is a poorly observed and little understood physical interface between the Sun’s interior and the rest of the solar system (the heliosphere). It is here that the solar wind originates and magnetism begins to dominate the solar system’s dynamics. In this first layer of the Sun’s outer atmosphere, space-weather events (flares or coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are detectable.  Observations and models of solar activity and space weather are vital to expand understanding of interactions among the Sun, chromosphere, and heliosphere. Observations refine scientists' understanding of solar behavior and validate model output, while models test the understanding initiated by observations.

An essential linkage between observations and model development is CSAC – the Community Spectro-Polarimetric Analysis Center. CSAC offers scientists the observational tools and expertise required to push critical understanding of the chromosphere forward, thereby driving improvements in space weather forecasting and prediction.

II. Stage of Research

Researchers hope to capitalize on the growing quality and comprehensiveness of chromospheric observations by developing models that more accurately interpret observations before, during, and after eruptive events. By better mapping this magneto-thermodynamic environment, NCAR scientists expect to improve space weather models and predictions. CSAC offers a crucial pathway toward this end, providing a vital interpretative element to measurements coming from DKIST (the National Solar Observatory’s Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope) and from NCAR’s CoMP and ChroMag instruments at the Mauna Loa Solar Observatory.

III. Advantages

  • CSAC provides an essential link to improving space-weather prediction. With expertise in observations and observational tools, CSAC offers the science community what it needs to improve analysis of observed solar dynamics.
  • CSAC translates observations of polarized light coming from the Sun into physical measurements of the Sun’s three-dimensional magnetic field and thermodynamic environment that can be input into models to generate more realistic representations of the Sun’s physical environment and the impacts of solar activity on Earth.
  • Using its tools and observations for model validation, CSAC helps advance model improvements that will allow researchers to generate considerably more accurate projections of solar storm directionality and strength.
  • Few experts in the interpretation of polarized radiation exist in the world; scientists in NCAR’s High Altitude Observatory, where CSAC resides, conceived the field, built the first instruments to illustrate the principle, and lead construction of next-generation observation/interpretation capabilities via the NCAR Mauna Loa Solar Observatory and CSAC.

IV. Applications

  • During periods of high solar activity, innovative new models may be able to better predict how, for example, the Sun’s magnetic fields will affect space weather effects on Earth in the near (hours to days) future.
  • CSAC capabilities provide the critical linkage that researchers need to generate the space-weather equivalent of a weather forecast model that is able to predict the effects that a solar flare or CME might have on Earth.
  • CSAC may provide a base from which to develop operational space weather models.

V. Funding and IP Status

Primary: National Science Foundation (core funding).

Seeking additional support for software development; advanced radiative transfer and magneto-hydrodynamic model development; development of data assimilation techniques to incorporate real-time solar measurements into space-weather forecast models.

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