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Adoption of GONG Network for Better Space Weather Prediction

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Space weather has gained the attention of the U.S. Congress throughout the past decade. The potential impact of large solar eruptions disrupting critical technologies like the nationwide power grid, Global Positioning System navigation, and communication infrastructure has grown with our increasing reliance on these technologies. To support weather prediction and the study of the Sun’s internal structure and dynamics. National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) National Solar Observatory (NSO) has provided continual observational data of solar activity from a global network of six identical telescopes

Recently, the NSO successfully transitioned the processing of these important observations of the Sun’s magnetic field and lower atmosphere to the operational control of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC). This move will ensure reliable delivery of the data to the NOAA’s space weather forecasters who are the nation’s official civilian source for space weather watches, warnings, alerts, and forecasts.

Recently, the NSO successfully transitioned the processing of these important observations of the Sun’s magnetic field and lower atmosphere to the operational control of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), a move that will ensure reliable delivery of the data to the NOAA’s space weather forecasters who are the nation’s official civilian source for space weather watches, warnings, alerts, and forecasts.

The Director of NSO says that This transition is an excellent example of research to operations in science they took a network that was not designed to provide observations in such regimented ways, and they adapted it for use in space weather forecasting. This adjustment of purpose shows the value that can be had by federal agencies combining efforts to work together.

The newly operationalised data are collected through the GONG network – an array of six solar telescopes distributed across the world and strategically located to provide continuous coverage of the Sun’s dynamic behaviour. The data streams feature detailed images of the Sun’s magnetism at its surface, as well as canopies of plasma suspended above the Sun’s surface known as filaments. Both of these types of data are vital for understanding the explosive nature of our local star.

The forecasters use imagery from GONG to monitor solar activity, such as solar flares, and for situational awareness. The transition of these data streams to “operational” status will ensure robust delivery of the observations to space weather forecasters, something that is not feasible using research infrastructure.

About a decade ago, SWPC began using GONG’s near-real-time maps of the Sun’s magnetic field as inputs for powerful models that predict the conditions of the solar wind and coronal mass ejections at Earth. These maps are updated hourly, combining simultaneously acquired data from multiple GONG sites and incorporating many thousands of observations from the past month to provide a more complete picture of the entire Sun.

NSO will continue to operate the GONG telescopes for NSF, with NOAA SWPC sharing the costs of operating and maintaining the GONG network as well as maintaining the responsibility for processing and disseminating observational space weather data products. While GONG remains an important part of NSF’s solar research portfolio, these new operational space weather capabilities have greatly broadened its overall scientific mission.

The next iteration of the GONG network, currently nicknamed “next-generation GONG” or ngGONG is already under development at NSO, with input from a wide variety of nationwide partners. While GONG has been converted to support space weather forecasting” explains Alexei Pevtsov, Associate Director at NSO, ngGONG is being designed especially to optimise support for space weather research and operations.

NSO utilises advanced technological techniques developed by dedicated engineering teams to provide the highest quality data to the U.S. solar physics community. Scientists are conducting cutting edge research on understanding the fundamental processes that occur on the Sun, specifically how its active magnetic field influences solar activity, and using our understanding of solar behaviours to better inform the knowledge of other stars.

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