Space Weather Monitors- Stanford SOLAR Center

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Nighttime Data Research Projects - Space Weather Monitors

Nighttime Data Research Projects

Obviously, solar activity will affect the ionosphere only during the daytime. But many phenomena such as lighting storms, whistlers, and gamma ray bursts have a dramatic effect on the nighttime ionosphere, when effects from the Sun can 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.

Lightning Phenomena
To get a feel for nighttime ionospheric VLF remote sensing, you might want to look at the HAIL Project, which investigates changes in the lower ionosphere produced by thunderstorms and associated lightning activity. The primary tool used by HAIL is a world-wide network of AWESOME-like sensors.

[we need much more info here on what students can do with their data]

Picking up Gamma Ray Bursts
On 27 December, 2004, Stanford ionospheric researchers detected the largest gamma-ray burst ever recorded. It came from a magnetar -- a neutron star with an enormous magnetic field -- some 50,000 light years away. Its powerful rays penetrated deep into the Earth's ionosphere where effects were captured by VLF receivers similar to the AWESOMEs.

Gamma-ray bursts are short-lived explosions of gamma-ray photons, the most energetic form of light. Some of them are associated with a supernovae, marking the deaths of especially massive stars. 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.

Enormous gamma-ray flares such as the December one affect our lower ionosphere to such a massive degree that, by watching and measuring its response to and recovery from the flare, we learn about the dynamics of these upper atmospheric regions. The full story about this event can be found at Big gamma-ray flare from star disturbs Earth's ionosphere

Gamma ray bursts are rare and spontaneous events. We wouldn't expect students to use their AWESOMEs 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.

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