Tracking solar storms and space weather to protect planet Earth
Accurate and timely weather forecasts have long been one of the science community’s holy grails. Now the study is extending to “space weather.”
Haimin Wang, distinguished professor of physics at NJIT and director of the university’s Space Weather Research Lab, is one of the world’s foremost authorities on solar flares. As chief scientist at NJIT’s Big Bear Solar Observatory in California, Dr. Wang leads a team dedicated to understanding the physics of solar flares and coronal mass ejections. Just as importantly, the team applies that knowledge to predict solar storms that endanger astronauts and have the power to destroy satellites, power grids and telecommunications networks.
Last spring, Dr. Wang and his colleagues at Big Bear, which is site of the world’s largest solar telescope, produced the first high-resolution images of the flaring magnetic structures known as solar flux ropes at their point of origin in the Sun’s chromosphere, allowing scientists to distinguish between mild twists and those severe enough to cause space weather. These observations provide an unprecedented glimpse into the complex dynamics of the Sun’s multilayered atmosphere, as well as insights into the massive eruptions on
the star’s surface.
Since joining NJIT in 1995, Dr. Wang and his team have been awarded more than $26 million in federal research grants. He leads NASA’s $4 million effort to study solar flare dynamics in the lower atmosphere, and he heads a global network of more than 30 scientists in six countries who monitor space weather 24/7.