Space Weather Monitors- Stanford SOLAR Center

SID Monitors
DataObtaining a Monitor
For Educators
Installation and Use
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For Educators

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)

Classroom Materials

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:

Space Weather Forecast - Teachers Guide (pdf)

A 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

Samples of Student Work

Click above for a collection of student worksheets and research projects associated with the Space Weather Monitors.


SIDs and the Ionosphere Space Weather About the Ionosphere About the Sun
About the Project

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.

Potential Research Projects

Sunrise/Sunset-related Phenomena

During periods 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 Phenomena

Tracking Solar Flares

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.

Ionization Effects

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? These are 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.

SID and AWESOME Antennas

"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 AWESOME one? What are the tradeoffs? Most of these answers are unknown. Perhaps your students would like to figure them out. To get started, try reading: Antenna Basics 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 effects. 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. See 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

Gamma-ray Bursts are short-lived explosions of gamma-ray photons, the most energetic form of electromagnetic radiation. 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.

Nighttime Data Research Activities

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.

Predicting Solar Storms

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.

Ionospheric Changes as Earthquake Predictors?

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!

©2015 by Stanford SOLAR Center