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Flaring Up

UTA leading $4.5 million initiative to develop tools to better predict space weather

Solar Flare

Photograph by Stocktrek Images

Keeping tabs on the weather in space is key to the functioning of much of the technology we rely on every day. GPS and other communication systems can all be adversely affected by solar flares and other space weather.

To help head off these issues, physicists at UTA are leading a $4.5 million, national initiative to develop a next-generation simulator capable of predicting energy distributions during space weather events with unprecedented accuracy.

Current estimates of the energy entering the upper atmosphere during times of greatest solar output can be off by as much as 100 percent. As a result, the models used to forecast trajectories and track orbiting satellites can also yield an error of up to 30 percent, affecting the stability of our technology here on Earth.

"This is a golden opportunity to help improve our ability to predict space weather effects with much higher accuracy and detail," says physics Associate Professor Yue Deng, who is leading the project. "To boost space weather modeling, we have to go to a smaller scale, which will require new physics as well as combining our current knowledge and models."

The five-year project, funded by the Department of Defense through the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative program, involves physicists from UCLA, Johns Hopkins University, MIT, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of New Mexico, and UT Dallas.

Duane Dimos, vice president of research, applauded Dr. Deng's leadership of this new initiative: "With this project, UTA is accelerating its research profile and leading a first-class team of the United States' best space physicists to solve an important problem."