Solar Wind & the Satellite Superhighway
According to a recently developed 3D mathematical model that describes the magnetic field around geosynchronous satellites, solar storms and solar wind have a larger impact on Earth’s magnetic field than researchers initially thought.
Solar wind is a continuous stream of charged particles released from the sun. The particles, known collectively as plasma, contain electrons, protons, and alpha particles stemming from the outermost layer of the Sun’s atmosphere. The plasma also contains the interplanetary magnetic field. This is part of the sun’s magnetic field that is released through solar wind. Larger bursts of plasma create the solar storms that have a stronger effect on Earth’s magnetosphere than solar wind.
The plasma has the potential to damage Earth and its inhabitants. Luckily, Earth’s magnetic field acts as a shield and redirects the plasma. When this happens, the magnetic field stretches and shifts. This affects not only the magnetic field itself, but also the geosynchronous satellites surrounding earth.
Satellites in geosynchronous orbit have the same orbital period as the Earth’s rotational period. The satellites return to the same position they began in after a sidereal day, which is about four minutes shorter than a solar (24 hours) day!
Geosynchronous satellites are used for global communication, television broadcasting, and weather forecasting. The satellite superhighway, made up of over 400 satellites, is affected by space storms and solar winds that cause fluctuating magnetic fields.
The mathematical model maps magnetic field lines based on radial basis functions and shows their evolution during space storms. The radial basis functions obtain and analyze data from multiple satellites and take into account all sources of geomagnetic field, including ring and tail currents that result from solar wind flow around Earth’s magnetosphere.
In the past, researchers attempted to model how space weather impacts the geosynchronous magnetic field but didn’t account for the influence of solar wind and solar storms. The latest model is based on spacecraft measurements of the geomagnetic field over the past two decades and helps represent the dynamics of Earth’s magnetic field and predict the impact of space weather.