26. May 2021
DLR opens the Institute for Solar-Terrestrial Physics in Neustrelitz

Re­li­able space weath­er fore­cast­ing

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Space, Security
Aurora borealis over Iceland
Au­ro­ra bo­re­alis over Ice­land
Image 1/4, Credit: © ESA

Aurora borealis over Iceland

Po­lar lights are a stun­ning nat­u­ral spec­ta­cle caused by so­lar ac­tiv­i­ty and the re­sult­ing stream of par­ti­cles and ra­di­a­tion. How­ev­er, few peo­ple are aware that they may al­so her­ald po­ten­tial dis­tur­bances. Charged so­lar par­ti­cles – one of the caus­es of the North­ern Lights – can dam­age or even de­stroy the elec­tron­ics on board satel­lites and even lead to ex­ten­sive pow­er out­ages on Earth.
Opening of the new institute
Open­ing of the new in­sti­tute
Image 2/4, Credit: © DLR. All rights reserved

Opening of the new institute

From left to right: Han­sjörg Dit­tus (DLR Ex­ec­u­tive Board Mem­ber for Space Re­search and Tech­nol­o­gy), Anke Kaysser-Pyza­l­la (Chair of the DLR Ex­ec­u­tive Board) and Markus Rapp (Act­ing In­sti­tute Di­rec­tor) marked the open­ing of the new DLR In­sti­tute for So­lar-Ter­res­tri­al Physics in Neustre­litz by un­veil­ing the stele.
Space weather research at DLR’s Neustrelitz site
Space weath­er re­search at DLR’s Neustre­litz site
Image 3/4, Credit: © DLR. All rights reserved

Space weather research at DLR’s Neustrelitz site

The In­sti­tute for So­lar-Ter­res­tri­al Physics pro­vides the con­di­tions for the prompt, pre­cise and re­li­able ob­ser­va­tion and fore­cast­ing of space weath­er. This helps im­prove the re­silience of vul­ner­a­ble in­fras­truc­ture.
Space weather affects Earth's magnetic field
Space weath­er af­fects Earth's mag­net­ic field
Image 4/4, Credit: © NASA

Space weather affects Earth's magnetic field

The so­lar wind in­ter­acts with Earth's iono­sphere and in­ter­feres with nav­i­ga­tion sig­nals, among oth­er things. Its ef­fects can be par­tic­u­lar­ly se­vere at the North and South Poles.
  • Solar storms can disrupt satellites in space and technology on Earth
  • DLR's new institute analyses interactions between solar activity and Earth's atmosphere
  • It will develop methods to protect against damage caused by space weather
  • Focus: Space, security

The auroras are beautiful manifestations of the stream of charged particles emitted by the Sun. But the Sun's plasma eruptions are more than a natural spectacle in the polar regions; they can also interfere with satellites. In extreme cases, space weather may even affect infrastructure on Earth. The Institute for Solar-Terrestrial Physics at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) studies space weather and conducts research to enable scientists to better understand and predict its effects. The DLR institute, which is located in Neustrelitz, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, was inaugurated on 26 May 2021.

"Our high-tech society is in great need of protection. We must take precautions to avoid the negative effects of space weather on our infrastructure on the ground, in the air, and in Earth orbit," says Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla, Chair of the DLR Executive Board. "By founding this new institute in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, we are contributing to the creation of a national space weather service."

The DLR Institute for Solar-Terrestrial Physics conducts fundamental and applied research with the aim of protecting technological infrastructure in space and on Earth against damage from space weather. A space weather service for this purpose is currently in development.

DLR institute to have 80 employees

The new institute is located on DLR's Neustrelitz site, which was established in 1992. In addition to space weather, research at the site focuses on satellite data reception, satellite remote sensing, navigation, as well as maritime traffic and security. The Institute for Solar-Terrestrial Physics currently has around 50 employees and is set to increase to 80 in the long term.

"The German Aerospace Center is a flagship institution for cutting-edge research not just in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, but across all of Germany," says Bettina Martin, Minister for Education, Science and Culture in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. "The new Institute for Solar-Terrestrial Physics will prove a great asset to the profile of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania as a scientific location. The federal state is providing approximately 10 million euros in funding for this important development and will invest a further 670,000 euros per year for material expenses and operating costs."

Severe solar storms breach Earth's protective magnetic field

Radiation and plasma bursts from the Sun, also known as solar storms, vary in intensity and frequency. Earth's magnetic field generally offers protection against solar storms. However, certain solar events, such as solar flares or coronal mass ejections throw electromagnetic radiation or vast quantities of ionised particles into space. These sometimes have enough energy to overcome Earth's protective shield.

"Space weather and its consequences are not restricted to space. Depending on the intensity, they can also disrupt electricity supplies and radio communications on Earth," says Thomas Jarzombek, Federal Government Coordinator of German Aerospace Policy. "We are aware of the economic damage that could potentially be caused by space weather and take the threat seriously. That is why I am delighted that this new institute is being set up in Neustrelitz and welcome the important contribution that its scientific research will make towards protecting society."

Our modern world is so reliant on high-tech infrastructure that a severe solar storm could lead to significant economic damage and satellite failures. Electrical supply networks could malfunction. The onboard electronics and navigation systems used by aircraft, ships and vehicles could also be dangerously disrupted. Solar storms could hamper the transmission of television, radio and mobile phone signals. Countermeasures could be deployed in time with sufficient advance warning; nowadays, satellites are temporarily switched off when possible interference is forecast. During solar storms, passenger planes that are routed over the polar regions fly at lower altitudes or change course altogether.

A better understanding of complex relationships

At the new DLR Institute for Solar-Terrestrial Physics, researchers will focus on the magnetosphere-ionosphere-thermosphere (MIT) system. This system relates to regions of Earth's atmosphere with special properties and interactions that are influenced by solar storms. A better understanding of the complex interrelationships here will help ensure that the negative consequences of space weather can be predicted and avoided.

There is a long tradition of ionospheric research in Neustrelitz. The city has been home to receiving antennas since 1913, initially for the experimental radio station of the Imperial Telegraph Research Office (Das kaiserliche Telegraphenversuchsamt). The signal had a reach of up to 100 kilometres – well into the ionosphere. Up in the ionosphere, gas is electrically charged (ionised) due to solar radiation and acts as a kind of mirror for radio waves.

Space weather events

In 1859, the English astronomer Richard Christopher Carrington observed a solar flare for the first time. A geomagnetic storm was registered on Earth some 20 hours later. It had been caused by a solar coronal mass ejection. The solar storm affected the alignment of compass needles. Power lines and telegraph systems suffered damage and the Northern Lights were seen as far south as Cuba.

In 1989, the entire province of Quebec, Canada suffered an electrical power blackout lasting nine hours as a result of a violent solar storm. Strong electromagnetic induction in overhead power lines led to transformers malfunctioning and, in some cases, being completely destroyed.

Contact
  • Katja Lenz
    Ed­i­tor
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    Me­dia Re­la­tions
    Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Me­dia Re­la­tions
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-5401
    Linder Höhe
    51147 Cologne
    Contact
  • Melanie-Konstanze Wiese
    Cor­po­rate Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Berlin, Neustre­litz, Dres­den, Je­na and Cot­tbus/Zit­tau
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    Pub­lic Af­fairs and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions
    Telephone: +49 30 67055-639
    Fax: +49 30 67055-102
    Rutherfordstraße 2
    12489 Berlin-Adlershof
    Contact
  • Prof. Dr. Markus Rapp
    Act­ing Di­rec­tor
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    In­sti­tute for So­lar-Ter­res­tri­al Physics
    17235 Neustrelitz
    Contact
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