Auroral Research and Forecasting

Today, research about the aurora focus on the acceleration mechanisms of precipitating particles, the physics behind the triggering of substorms, and the possibilities of reducing the risk of property damages due to magnetic storms. These research areas all need data about the conditions in space. Both the solar wind conditions and the resulting disturbances on the Earth such as magnetic and electric field fluctuations, particle populations, and auroral activity are needed in order to deduce the physical mechanisms behind these phenomena.

The northern and southern auroral ovals are always present, day and night. From the Earth they can be seen by the naked eye at latitudes between 60 and 80 degrees north and south. The aurora is the visible manifestation of the particle precipitation along the magnetic field lines leading down into the aurora. Since the aurora can be viewed only during relatively cloud-free nights, it is not an optimal source of information about the result of magnetospheric activity. The best tool to gather this information was (very early in the history of spaceflight) found to be satellites in polar orbits, which continuously orbit the Earth and measures the particle distributions while over the auororal ovals. There has been a number of this type of satellites over the last 40 years, with new facts and findings about the auroral physics discovered by every one.

Up until now, the data from such satellites has first been analysed by the Principal Investigator of the instrument in question, then the result of the investigation has been published in scientific papers. With Munin, we propose to use a new paradigm of data dissemination which we think will enhance the output from auroral research. We will make the data from the instruments on Munin available in real time to everyone interested, by using the Internet and WWW-based services. Munin will provide measurements of the electron, ion, and neutral particle distributions above the auroral ovals, as well as images of the aurora taken by a CCD camera in visible wavelengths. As the data comes down to the ground station in Kiruna, the data will be processed such that it can be used by scientists all over the world for auroral research. The satellite will store data from the pass over the southern auroral oval (over Antartica) in its memory which will then be downloaded when it is over Kiruna, whereas the data from the northern oval will be downlinked in near real time.

This "fresh" data will enhance the possibilities of using the data for forecasting of auroral activity. The shape of the ovals, and the offset of its center relative to the geographical poles, means for example that it is possible to use measurements over Scandinavia to predict the auroral activity in North America or Siberia at a later time. We intend to use the Munin measurements to present the present status of the auroral ovals, and let users of the data interpolate the position and size of the auroral oval a few hours into the future, in order to forecast auroral activity.

IRF - RYP - SwRI - Luth