US government agency pops 16 years of solar weather data online

Data from GPS systems helps to predict how satellites and radios fare when the sun flares

Solar storm - Shutterstock

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released 16 years' worth of GPS solar weather data gathered by the Los Alamos National Laboratory for all comers.

The data, available here, comes from instruments aboard GPS satellites and other sources.

Los Alamos explains the release is designed to help researchers create and refine models for understanding and predicting solar weather, to better-protect “satellites, aircraft, communications networks, navigation systems, and [the] electric power grid”.

The sensors measure the energy and intensity of electrons and protons trapped in the Earth's magnetic field to form the Van Allen radiation belts. Each of the 23 sensors in the GPS constellation measures the largest radiation belt every six hours.

With 16 years of data, that provides a huge record of variability in the radiation belt, “including how it responds to solar storms”. Understanding that variability, Los Alamos says, is “key to developing effective space-weather forecasting models”.

As Science magazine explains, this data release stems from an October 2016 executive order from President Barack Obama, requiring better preparation for extreme space weather. ®

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