$2.5 Million Grant to Monitor Space Weather, Making Space Travel Safer | University of Hawaii System News

A preview of what the neutron monitoring station will look like.

A university of Hawaii to the Mānoa-led project to better predict and understand space weather received a major boost from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The four-year, $2.5 million grant will fund a project to build a space weather station center on the uh Mānoa campus and deploying a neutron monitor on Maui, which the researchers believe will significantly enhance their research in this critical area.

sun and telescope

The uh Mānoa’s Department of Physics and Astronomy will receive $1.2 million of the $2.5 million grant. UH Manoa Associate Professor Veronique Bindithe project’s lead researcher, says her team is collaborating with researchers from the University of New Hampshire and the University of Arizona.

The project will measure the most powerful particles emitted by the Sun, which are solar energetic particles and solar neutron particles. These particles can pose a risk to astronauts and lead to a major failure of electronics in space, such as satellites, and technologies used in space travel by Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. On Earth, solar storms can affect the power grid and disrupt radio communications.

This project will help better monitor solar particles and develop warning systems to advance our predictions of space weather hazards so astronauts are safe during space missions. Bindi added that the station and neutron monitor will take about three years to build and will be built just in time for our next “solar maximum”, which is expected in 2025 or 2026.

“Here in the field, before doing an activity like hiking or surfing, we want to know the weather. The same goes for space mission planning,” Bindi said. “You want to know the weather is going to be nice, which means we’re not going to have too many particles coming towards our astronauts, instruments and space assets.”

Bindi works with uhInstitute of Astronomy (If a) to identify a high-altitude site in If a facilities in Maui and obtain the necessary approvals and permits to place a neutron monitor, which is about the size of a shipping container.

According to Bindi, the Haleakalā site was chosen because more particles will be captured the higher the monitor is above sea level. The monitor will be one of 50 worldwide that will increase coverage to more areas of the world.

A data processing center will also be created on the uh The Mānoa campus will serve as a hub for researchers to work and organize data. They will combine data collected on Haleakalā, with energetic particle data from the International Space Station’s Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, and display their results to the public in real time.

As principal investigator, Bindi and uh Mānoa will manage the entire project and be involved in all aspects of its objectives. The University of New Hampshire will support the construction of the neutron monitor, with its initial data taking, calibration and data quality. The University of Arizona will work on theoretical models describing the propagation of particles from the Sun to the Earth, used to define our space weather results and forecasting capabilities.

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Provide STEM education

Hands-on outreach programs will be made available to high school and college students. The project will also aim to advance science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), especially among young women and underrepresented groups.

“It is extremely important to expose our children to science at an early stage because they will decide if they want to pursue a career in science, so we need to inspire them,” Bindi said. “…I am particularly interested in inspiring young women so that there are more girls who follow my career path.”

Deepening of knowledge in geospatial sciences

This uh The Mānoa Prize is one of seven awarded by NSF nationally in its first round of awards for the Grand Challenges in Integrative Geospace Sciences: Advancing National Space Weather Expertise and Research to Societal Resilience (ANSWERS) program.

These projects focus on two areas of research – solar and space physics, and space weather and climate – that are critical to advancing scientific discoveries and protecting the nation’s economy and security. According NSF“ANSWERS offers a collaborative opportunity and a holistic approach to understanding the dynamic and integrated Sun-Earth system, as well as the causes of space weather and its effects from ‘sun to mud’.”

This work is an example of uh Mānoa’s goal of research excellence: to advance the enterprise of research and creative work (PDF), one of the four objectives defined in the Strategic Plan 2015-2025 (PDF), updated December 2020.

-By Marc Arakaki

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