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Introductory Research Activity
A draft introductory activity has been developed by Stanford Solar Center
to introduce students to the monitors and their data. This activity is
currently being tested in classrooms. It is best done with data from your
own monitor. However, sample data is available if you are interested in trying the
activity before you obtain a monitor:
SID Activities Teacher Guide (pdf)
The Chabot Space and Science Center
is partnering with the Stanford Solar Center to develop classroom materials,
laboratory activities, and teacher training for the Space Weather Monitor
Project. The focus of the materials is the Sun and Space Weather.
A draft of these materials is now available:
solar curriculum developed and tested at San Leandro
High School, San Leandro, California
has been successfully used and tested with various high
school general science classes. A brief description
is available at:
SLHS Solar Curriculum
Click above for a collection of student worksheets and research projects associated
with the Space Weather Monitors.
Simulations of the Ionosphere
For a simulation/visualization of how the ionosphere responds to day and night,
see Visualizing the Ionosphere.
Note that the videos represent a coronal mass ejection (CME) striking the
Earth, not a solar flare as the SIDs pick up. So only the day/night and
north/south hemisphere information is relevant to SID data.
of low solar activity (e.g. 2006) it may be necessary to focus on aspects of
the data other than solar flares. Your students might be able to do something
intriguing related to the sunrise and sunset "signatures" that the monitors
pick up. Check out: Sunrise/Sunset-related
Your students might attempt to compare solar flare signatures from
various SID monitors to find out if latitude affects the signatures and
hence the ionospheric response to flares.
Tracking Solar Flares has some suggestions.
There is much your students can learn by trying to understand
the processes going on in the ionosphere. How and why do VLF
signals bounce off the ionosphere, and thus provide communication
"around" the Earth? Why are the daytime and nighttime SID signals
different? How does the Sun normally influence the ionosphere?
What happens to the ionosphere during a solar flare?
more questions of discovery rather than research, but they provide
an important background understanding for some of the research exercises
suggested. For more details, see Ionization Effects.
"Antennas, to quote a friend, are one of life's eternal mysteries."
The SID Manual describes how to build a couple loop antennas, one
twice the diameter of the other. But the options for size, shape,
materials, and wire are almost unlimited.
Why? What is the best design and size for a SID antenna, for an
What are the tradeoffs?
Most of these answers are unknown. Perhaps your students would like to figure them
out. To get started, try reading:
and Loop Antennas
and look at our page of
questions about antennas.
Tracking a Solar Storm
The SID and AWESOME monitors sense changes in the Earth's ionosphere
caused by x-rays and high energy particles emanating from solar
flares (as well as other nighttime causes). Solar flares often precede
coronal mass ejections (CMEs), large bodies of plasma ejected from
complex magnetic fields on the Sun. CMEs also affect the Earth environment,
although in different ways than the x-ray flares. CMEs are responsible
for the auroral behavior we see at the Earth's poles, amongst other
Tracking a Solar Storm.
exercize, students track a solar flare
(being) picked up by their
SID monitor to an active region on the Sun by using
data and imagery from current spacecraft and satellites.
Similar to the exercise above, this activity, also from NASA,
features advanced problems in mathematics and science that
relate to the processes of solar storms.
Tracking a Solar Storm (IMAGE version)
Both these are activities
of discovery rather than research, but they provide an important
set of skills necessary to take part in the more difficult research
activity of predicting solar flares.
Gamma Ray Events
are short-lived explosions of gamma-ray photons, the most energetic form of
Some of them are believed to be associated with supernovae,
the birth of black holes from deaths of especially massive stars,
produced during neutron star collisions/mergers, or emanating from starquakes
on a magnetar (a super-magnetized neutron star).
Lasting anywhere from a few milliseconds to several minutes,
gamma-ray bursts shine hundreds of times brighter than a typical supernova
and about a million trillion times as bright as the Sun.
Gamma ray bursts are rare and spontaneous events.
We wouldn't expect students to use their monitors solely to wait for these to occur.
However, if your students pick up a significant and unexplained
change to the ionosphere, they may have detected a gamma ray burst.
See Gamma-ray Burst Real-time Sky Map
to check lists of current and known gamma ray bursts.
There has been very little research done to determine if the SID monitor
can or cannot pick up gamma ray events. Perhaps your students will be the first to find out!
Enormous gamma-ray flares affect our lower ionosphere to such a massive degree that,
by watching and measuring its response to and recovery from the flare,
scientists learn about the dynamics of these upper atmospheric regions.
The story about a gamma ray event picked up by AWESOME-like monitors can be found at
Big gamma-ray flare from star disturbs Earth's ionosphere.
The recent discovery of terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGFs) opens broad questions about the nature of the physical processes associated with lightning strikes, in particular, those that produce the extremely high
electric fields and highly relativistic electrons responsible for gamma-ray emission. Energy levels from these TGFs rival the energy levels of powerful cosmic sources such as black holes and collapsing stars, except they originate in our own atmosphere.
Most TGFs are closely linked with individual lightning strokes. However, the nature of the physical processes that generate TGFs remains unknown. We do not know if the SID monitors are capable of detecting these high-energy local transmissions.
Are your students interested in finding out?
This Gamma Ray Burst Catalog lists many of the gamma
ray bursts detected using the Anti-Coincidence Shield (ACS) of the SPI spectrometer. To use it, first click "Display" for the month and year of interest, and
an SPI-ACS event table will be displayed. To view a specific event, click on the icon in the "Edit" column.
On these "light curve" graphs, the X-axis shows the duration (seconds from trigger time) and the Y-axis shows the SPI-ACS count rate, which
is a measure of radiation intensity.
More information and data links can be found here.
Your SID or AWESOME monitor can run 24 hours a day. Obviously,
solar activity will affect the ionosphere only during the
daytime. But many phenomena such as lighting storms and
gamma ray bursts have a dramatic effect on the nighttime ionosphere, when
effects from the Sun no longer drown them out.
Stanford's STAR Laboratory - VLF Group investigates the Earth's
electrical environment, lightning discharges, radiation belts,
and the ionosphere. The AWESOME instrument data is broad-band and
much more sensitive than the SID instrument's and thus more useful
for nighttime ionospheric research. If you have advanced students
who are interested in
looking into this area, here are some
nighttime data suggestions.
Like predicting Earth's weather, predicting the occurrence
of a solar flare or storm is complex and difficult work,
an area that the professionals are just beginning to understand.
However, if you have advanced students who have successfully completed
the "Tracking a Solar Storm" exercizes, they may want to try their
hand at predicting which sunspots, starting with those on the back of
the Sun, might eventually produce a flare or storm. Then they
can compare their predictions to those of the experts.
There is some intriguing research about whether large earthquakes are
associated with ionospheric changes caused by electromagnetic signals
released by the crushing of rock crystalline structures.
If so, then ionospheric changes might be a mechanism for major
earthquake prediction. This research is still young and controversial
and, if there are
effects, they may be way too subtle for the SID or even the AWESOME
instruments to pick up.
If your students are
able to answer any of these questions, please let us know and we will highlight
their research on the website!