Much like Earth, space has weather patterns as well. Space weather is actually quite turbulent above our heads and the main influence on space weather is our nearest star, the sun. In space, weather events have many names but generally they are called “solar events”.
The word “solar” is derived from the latin word “sol” which means sun. Solar storms can cause a lot of disruptions that could be dangerous. That is why there are Space Weather Warning Centres, to help predict and prepare for catastrophic events.
The SANSA Space Weather Warning Centre in Hermanus is decked out with a huge wall of TV monitors that have various images of the sun and this is where the experts are able to look at it and supply warnings, alerts and forecasts of any space weather events.
This centre is one of only 17 international space weather warning centres and is the only one of its kind in Africa. Monitoring space weather events is not only important to scientists but it should be important for everyone that uses modern technology, as it has the potential to disrupt and impact systems such as satellites, power grids and radio communication.
This could be quite dangerous for the aviation industry that requires their GPS and navigation systems to run smoothly on all aircrafts, especially in adverse weather. This is one of the main reasons why the centre provides regional space weather updates to the airline industry.
A solar superstorm also has the potential to have detrimental effects on communication systems like mobile phones, and could have a severe impact on the world economy and society at large. Therefore, it is vital to monitor the sun and its daily activities and hopefully pre-empt any space weather events.
An example of a big space weather event that disrupted everyday life in the past is the Carrington Event of 1859 where the digital telegraph (some say that it was the internet of its day) was affected by the largest geomagnetic storm ever recorded. If something similar were to happen today, it would cripple society and potentially affect GPS systems, internet-based technology, power and electricity and transport. Therefore, it is important to be able to forecast any solar weather events.