Ghostbusters

Our space weather forecasters saw 'ghost' events being reported. Here is the story.

Satellites watch the Sun 24/7 for bursts of light that happen on the Solar surface. Computers help to analyse the numerous satellite data to identify these solar flares.

As we are heading to a so-called Solar Minimum in which the Sun expels less energy in the form of particles and light and the Sun looks less complicated, the continuous output of light has diminished and reached a very low level at the moment. This is not exceptional since the Sun plunges into a minimum every 11 years.

The Sun on a day in March 2014 on the left and the Sun now, March 2017 on the right: the 11-year activity cycle continues towards its minimum and its less complicated looks. These EUV pictures are taken by an instrument called SWAP onboard of the satellite PROBA2.

One could think that these Solar condition are easier to monitor and to analyse. However, these low levels look like noise and confuse computers. It is here that ghosts sneak in as false detections. 

The PROBA2 satellite monitors the solar UV/X-ray radiation
of the Sun with LYRA.

Jesse Andries, head of the Space Weather Forecast Centre of Belgium explains “The X-ray measurements by the NOAA/GOES satellites are in general taken as the reference to quantify solar flares. But we recently saw ‘ghost' bursts being reported based on the GOES13 data. Closer inspection and comparison with the data of GOES15 as well as with the data from the LYRA instrument on board the PROBA2 satellite which we operate ourselves, shows that these were indeed false detections. Apparently they are caused by automated routines working on data with large noise levels.”

It is definitely an advantage that one knows his instruments through and through. This is the case with LYRA. In this way, the forecasters could check every step and come to trustworthy results.

Jesse Andries concludes “Our forecasters are always aware of possible fake events in the reference lists. It is our second nature to check and re-check the original data and compare it with other observations.”

 

 

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