Met Office opens UK's first space weather forecasting centre

Space weather can cause problems including power outages

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The Independent Online

The UK’s first centre dedicated to forecasting the weather in space has opened today.

It is hoped that the Met Office Space Weather Centre, based at the organisation’s headquarters in Exeter, will help to protect the UK from the threat of severe space weather events.

Space weather is a term used to describe the Sun’s activity, which can interfere with the Earth’s magnetic fields. Along with flu and volcanic eruptions, solar storms appear of the National Risk Register as they can cause problems including power grid outages and disruptions to GPS systems.

The centre will work around the clock to provide forecasts and release early warnings aimed at protecting infrastructure.

After Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama highlighted the countries' space weather partnership in London in May 2011, scientists worked for over three years to found the institution.

Met Office Space Weather Business Manager Mark Gibbs called space weather forecasting “a new, emerging and exciting area of science where understanding is growing rapidly.”

“Space weather is an all-encompassing term covering the near-Earth impact of solar flares, geomagnetic storms and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) from the sun. The impact these have on Earth is becoming ever more important as we become more reliant on technology," he said.

Universities, Science and Cities Minister Greg Clark, who opened the centre, said: “The Met Office Space Weather Centre is a clear demonstration of how the UK is a world leader in space weather. Not only will it help us to guard against the impact of space weather, but its capabilities will mean benefits for British businesses like those in the space industry and the wider economy.”

Laura Furgione, deputy director of the US’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, explained that accurately predicting and preparing for the impact of space weather requires the same level of commitment given to forecasting the weather on earth.

"Our countries' collaborative efforts will help to promote preparedness and resilience to protect critical infrastructure against the growing and evolving global impacts from space weather," she added.