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Numerical Prediction for Space Weather

Q. What do you think is the challenge in increasing the accuracy of space weather forecast?

Real-time Earth’s magnetosphere simulation (courtesy: NICT)
Real-time Earth’s magnetosphere simulation (courtesy: NICT)

Our future challenge is to implement quantitative prediction, i.e. numerical prediction by computer simulation. In other words, we would like to be able to do space weather forecast by developing a simulation model based on observation data of solar magnetic fields, and performing numerical calculation. Numerical prediction was introduced to meteorological forecasting quite a long time ago, but for space weather forecasting we are still making empirical predictions based on real-time observation data and data accumulated over the years.
To achieve numerical prediction, NICT is focusing on space weather simulation with a supercomputer. In this research area, NICT has achieved the world’s first real-time replication of how the Earth’s magnetosphere changes, using actual observation data of solar wind. As the accuracy of numerical prediction increases with an improved simulation model, we are hoping to gradually shift our forecasting method from empirical to numerical prediction. If numerical prediction comes into practical use, it will enable us to make long-term predictions a few days ahead. I expect that this will further expand the applications of space weather forecasting. For example, numerical forecasts can be used for scheduling satellite operation. It will make it easier not only to set temporal coordination against violent solar activity but also to plan long-term schedules. Also, air traffic control systems and farms using unmanned tractors will be able to corrected errors in real time. And in addition, when commercial space travel becomes a reality in the future, people will be able to check space weather forecasts before they leave on a journey.

Q. Finally, what are your expectations for JAXA?

Solar physics satellite HINODE
Solar physics satellite HINODE

I am looking forward to the results from the solar physics satellite HINODE, which is currently in operation. One of its mission objectives is to observe solar magnetic fields with high accuracy. A solar flare is an explosion triggered by the distortion of magnetic fields on the Sun’s surface. If we can find the probability quantitatively - how much distortion it takes to produce a solar flare - it may become possible to predict solar flares in advance.
I am also very interested in using HINODE data for future numerical space weather prediction. For instance, I expect that we will be able to provide even more accurate forecasts if we can apply new knowledge - such as the temperature and density distribution of solar corona; data on magnetic fields, which trigger solar flares and CMEs; and the mechanism of solar wind acceleration - to a simulation model for space weather forecast. Of course, JAXA operates many satellites, and NICT would greatly appreciate it if JAXA could offer data from other satellites for forecasting space weather.

We hope that JAXA will make good use of our space weather information. JAXA and NICT have built a collaborative relationship in some areas, such as technology demonstration tests using the first quasi-zenith satellite MICHIBIKI. I hope that we can build a good relationship in the area of space weather forecast as well.

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