CRD Expands Space Weather Monitoring on Mt. Aragats

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YEREVAN — The Cosmic Ray Division (CRD) of the Yerevan Physics Institute (YerPhI) operates one of the largest cosmic ray monitoring networks at its research stations on Armenia’s Mt. Aragats. CRD scientists are currently adding two new categories of monitors in cooperation with their international research partners, Magnetic Field Monitoring and Solar Radio Signals.

The magnetic field surrounding the earth is usually thought to be constant. However, magnetic field disturbances in the interplanetary space (the space between the sun and the planets) can alter the magnetic field surrounding the earth. Interplanetary magnetic field disturbances occur due to violent processes at the sun, such as the ejection of a large volume of hot and charged matter known as Coronal Mass Ejections (CME). The interplanetary magnetic field variations add to the earth’s own magnetic field often severely changing the magnetic field surrounding the earth. This phenomenon is known as a Geomagnetic Storm. Depending on its severity, it can induce damaging current surges in electrical power lines causing widespread blackouts, induce currents in pipelines accelerating their corrosion, play havoc on satellite electronics and cause astronauts to be subjected to excess radiation requiring them to take cover in special compartments aboard the International Space Station.

The Lviv Space Research Institute of the Ukrainian Academy of Science and the Cosmic Ray Division of YerPhI are partnering with each other to establish the LLEMI-417 Magnetometric Stations on Mt. Aragats, to measure the variations in magnetic field around the earth. This summer the first magnetometric station was installed at CRD’s Nor Ambert research station at 6,000-foot altitude on Mt. Aragats. A similar geomagnetic field monitoring station will also be installed at CRD’s Aragats Research Station at 11,000 foot altitude.

This new instrumentation will allow the CRD scientists and their partners to directly correlate cosmic ray and geomagnetic data to better understand Space Weather. The accumulated measurements from Nor Amberd will enhance CRD’s ability to forecast major geomagnetic storms and issue reliable space weather alerts.

While Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) contribute to geomagnetic storms, they also generate characteristic radio signals which, travel at the speed of light to reach the earth before the CMEs and the characteristic magnetic fields that accompany them arrive at earth and do their damage. Accurate measurement and characterization of these all be it weak radio signals, can give valuable advance warnings on the impending CME’s and geomagnetic storms. Professor Gemmeke from the Karlsruhe Research Center in Germany introduced an antenna to measure these very weak radio signals to the CRD in fall 2008. Capturing the data from these antennas require very sophisticated electronics. CRD’s electronic engineers possess just such expertise. They demonstrated the feasibly of collecting data from such an antenna and in the summer of 2009, three antennas with the associated electronics were installed at CRD’s Nor Ambert and Aragats research stations. Data from these antennas proved that the radio measurements have sufficient precision to enhance Space Weather Forecasting techniques. Continual monitoring started this autumn with equipment supplied by Karlsruhe.

Future plans include manufacturing these antenna systems at YerPhI and deploying them at locations around the world to improve Space Weather forecasting. The network of antennas will also be useful in investigating lightning storms. Recent research indicates cosmic ray phenomena correlated with the occurrence of lightning and thunderstorms. Mt. Aragats is an ideal location for this research because of its existing infrastructure and the frequent storms that occur during the summer.

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