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The Space Weather Center provides an engaging and timely opportunity for museum visitors to deepen their understanding and appreciation of the dramatic effects of solar activity on our planet.  
  Visitors interact with a plasmasphere at SSI's Space Weather Center exhibit.

Visitors to the Space Weather Center learn about:

  • solar cycles and space weather, including the effects of the year 2000 solar maximum,
  • the electrical and magnetic changes that take place in space that affect people and equipment on Earth as well as in space,
  • the cause of the greatest light show on Earth --- the aurora,
  • and current events about space weather, including recent discoveries from leading scientists.

Major Elements of the Exhibit

I. Living in the Atmosphere of the Sun

As visitors enter the exhibition, they are greeted by a large (3' x 6') photomural of an active Sun and the comet-shaped region surrounding Earth, called the magnetosphere. The photomural uses polar motion to simulate the solar wind flowing from the Sun and around Earth's magnetosphere. It is backlit and activated by push buttons on the railing. In this introductory module, visitors learn that, contrary to popular opinion, outer space is not empty, but is filled with gases hot enough to conduct electricity and radiation at sometimes dangerous levels. The hot conducting gases are called plasma, the fourth state of matter. They are introduced to a variety of solar activity and learn that the Sun in the ultimate power house for space weather.

The Space Weather Computer Kiosk includes (1) near real-time data from the Sun, (2) near real-time auroral data from space, and (3) space weather conditions in space using a traffic light device for level of activity. The three areas for a visitor to access are: 1) What's Been Happening on the Sun Recently?, 2) Recent Auroral Activity, 3) Weather Conditions in Space.

II. Our Dynamic Sun

The outer layers of the Sun are in constant motion and emit a stream of plasma called the solar wind, which fills the space between the planets and beyond. This exhibit area explains the importance of sunspots, the sunspot cycle, and describes the spectacular explosions called coronal mass ejections (CMEs). High-speed, high-energy CMEs are carried along in the solar wind. They are the primary cause of magnetic disturbances on Earth, such as the disruption of electric power networks and the loss of radio communications. The size of the Earth is compared to solar features such as sunspots or CMEs to give visitors a sense of physical scale - the Sun is really big. It is also very powerful - a CME emits enough energy in just two hours to power the U.S. for 10,000 years!

The "Our Dynamic Sun Interactive Video" allows visitors to access spectacular imagery of the Sun. Several quick sequences are looped to run for 20 to 30 seconds.

III. Planet Earth: In the Path of the Storm

The Earth is a gigantic magnet. The solar wind confines Earth's magnetic field to a comet-shaped cavity known as the magnetosphere, within which one finds such regions as the Van Allen radiation belts. Electricity and magnetism in space play an important role. As the solar wind flows past the magnetosphere, it acts like a cosmic generator, producing millions of amps of electric current. Some of this electric current flows into Earth's upper atmosphere, which can light up like a neon tube to create the beautiful but mysterious Northern and Southern Lights (called the aurora). This exhibit area explains the cause of the aurora. Visitors also learn why communication satellites and electric power networks are vulnerable to space weather especially during magnetic storms.

The Sun-Earth Connections Interactive Video features stunning footage of how solar activity impacts Earth. A series of 20 to 30 second video clips show how CMEs interact with Earth's magnetosphere. The video also includes spectacular auroral imagery , a model simulation of a magnetic storm, and a canned space weather report.


  The Space Weather Center is brought to you by the Space Science Institute as part of the National Space Weather Program. Funding is provided by NASA and the National Science Foundation.  

Copyright 1998-1999 Space Science Institute, all rights reserved
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