Thursday, May 13, 2010

How to save the Earth via the World Wide Web

There are not many websites which literally give you the chance to protect the world.
Yet, if you are keen on spending a few moments of your day defending the Earth from an imminent solar attack, the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London would like to hear from you.

Its Solar Stormwatch website highlights the danger of radiation bursts from the Sun - and gives users the chance to help scientists spot Sun storms - known as coronal mass ejections - before they cause damage on Earth.

The site was built in partnership with the Science and Technology Facilities Council's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and citizen science site Zooniverse.

"When you look up at the Sun obviously it's too bright to look at properly," said Dr Marek Kukula from the Royal Observatory.

"With special instruments and telescopes you can see there's all sorts of stuff going on.
"These coronal mass ejections are enormous explosions on the Sun which hurl billions of tonnes of material out into space.

"If that hits the Earth, that's when these problems are caused."

The bursts of radiation from the Sun can knock out telecoms systems, causing millions of pounds of damage and even endangering life.

Nasa already monitors the Sun using two spacecraft called 'Stereo'. The craft produce 3D images of the star which can show the trajectory of these explosions.

However, the sheer amount of data means Nasa's scientists are unable to analyse the data as closely as they need - which is where the world's internet population comes in.

After a brief - and painless, the makers assure - tutorial, users get access to the actual 3-D images taken by the Stereo spacecraft.

Then, if a user believes they have spotted the beginnings of a solar storm, they can bring it to the attention of scientists.

"Every little bit counts," said Dr Kukula.

"I've spoken to the scientists involved and they all agree that even if you log-on and just do it for a few hours, get bored and never touch it again it's all really useful - and helps them to do their work."