Avalon Instruments Research and development division

SAMM: SOLAR ACTIVITY MOF MONITOR
The European Space Weather project (Horizon 2020)

The last but the most important step has been done in the scientific area.

AVALON INSTRUMENTS in now involved, with the collaboration of INAF (National Institute for Astrophisics), in the European Space Weather project (Horizon 2020). The project target is the design and the production of a Solar Magnetic Field Monitoring System to prevent the risk of a solar flare that can damage/destroy the human technology as Satellites, GPS systems, Nuclear and Termic power plant.

SAMM is a remotely operated binocular telescope equipped with two instruments based on the narrow band Magnetic Optical Filters (MOF), with the aim to get images from different layers of the atmoshere of the sun at a high temporal cadence (20 sec) and a resolution of 1000Km.

SAMM can simultaneously produce images giving a “real time” map of magnetic fields and plasma evolution in the active regions of the sun that can produce powerful “solar storms” causing severe damages on many infrastructures on the Earth. A network of SAMM telescopes can provide a very unique instrument to forecast these disrupting events in a risk mitigation framework.

Space weather

According to the World Meteorological Organization, “Space weather encompasses the conditions and processes occurring in space, including on the sun, in the magnetosphere, ionosphere and thermosphere, which have the potential to affect the near-Earth environment”.

The Sun is the main driver of the space weather that causes substantial socio-economic damage at Earth with “Solar storms” wich are events from explosions on its surface, caused by instabilities of magnetic fields in the atmosphere. A ‘solar storm’ actually encompasses three different components: solar flares, solar energetic particles (notably protons) and coronal mass ejections (CMEs). A large solar storm would produce all three.

These physical phenomena on Earth may have an impact on human activities and technology. As our society becomes ever more dependent on technological infrastructure, the impact of severe space weather events becomes increasingly dramatic. This includes both direct effects on specific industry sectors, such as electric power, spacecraft and aviation industries, and indirect effects on dependent infrastructures and services, such as positioning and navigation systems, electrical power grids, oil and gas pipelines.

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Fig. 1 – A long filament of solar material from the Sun's atmosphere (August 31, 2012).

 

For example a severe CME has the potential to generate geomagnetically induced currents (GICs) that could cause permanent damage to Extra High Voltage (EHV) transformers. Such high value assets are not easy to procure and replace in the short-term. Failure in these critical assets could cause system wide instability issues leading to cascading failure across the electricity system, passed on to other critical interdependent infrastructures such as transportation, digital communications and our vital public health systems. This disruption could also cause considerable disruption to business activities.

The biggest storm ever recorded happened in 1859 (Carrington event). At that time telegraph systems all over Europe and North America failed, in some cases giving telegraph operators electric shocks. Less severe storms have occurred in 1921 and 1960, when widespread radio disruption was reported. The March 1989 geomagnetic storm knocked out power across large sections of Quebec. The variations in the earth's magnetic field tripped circuit breakers on Hydro-Québec's power grid in a few minutes. The power failure lasted nine hours. Moreover many satellites have been damaged during the 2003 “Halloween Storm" and, luckily, the 2012 superstorm missed the earth by just one week. The effects would have been devastating. If a giant solar storm like the 2012 hit the Earth, large parts of society could be without power for months or years.

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Fig. 2 – Another CME photographed by the STEREO satellite in 2012 (NASA).

 

More recently, multiple solar eruptions occurred between 4 and 10 September 2017, disrupted the HF radio communications used by the emergency managers during the hurricanes season in the Caribbean. A flare caused a near total blackout in HF radio link both used in disaster response and aviation tracking.

In 2013 the threat-assessment report by Lloyd’s insurance concluded that extreme space weather events would cause $2.6 trillion damage (>10 times that of the most destructive hurricanes and earthquakes), and it would take between 4 and 10 years to fully recover. More recently, examining disruption to the global supply chain, Eastwood et al. [2017] estimated a similar total economic loss up to $2.7 trillion.

However, (super)storm apart, the ‘nominal’ space weather causes an economic loss of 10 billion €/year.

As a result, programmes and infrastructure have been built worldwide with the aim to predict the solar activity and to forecast its potential impact to Earth and its space vicinity (known as geospace). Predicting solar flare activity is particularly challenging. It is even more challenging to predict the impact of that solar activity on Earth, other planets of the solar system and natural or artificial satellites. Yet, prediction is what we need to mitigate these negative effects, as they cannot be proactively engineered against.

Today’s forecasting systems, however, are either based on (semi-) empirical models that are subject to serious shortcomings or have to rely on inherently incomplete solar observational data.

 

SAMM

SAMM is an undergoing project (see Fig. 3) at the Rome Astronomical Observatory (one of the Observatories of the National Institute for astrophysics) in cooperation with a SME industry (AVALON-DG Group) and funded by the Italian Ministry for economic development (MiSE) in 2015.

A SAMM unit is made of a ALT-AZ robotic mounts each hosting two Optical Telescope Assembly (OTA) on the two sides, and two electro-optical units (EOU) containing the MOF filters. An OTA is composed of a 9.25 inch telescope customized for solar observations that feed the MOF assembly. A fast readout camera provides images at the wavelength the MOF filters. The OTAs, developed for SAMM can be implemented with an image stabilizer to minimize the effect of daytime seeing and telescope vibrations. Each telescope can be installed in a remotely controlled dome designed for daytime observations.

SAMM produces magnetograms (images of the LoS magnetic field strength) and dopplergrams (images of the LoS velocity field) simultaneously at two heights in the solar atmosphere. It uses four MOFs a very unique narrow band filters that provide high throughput and spectral stability.

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 Fig. 4 Control software of the SAMM prototype.

With a network of SAMM telescopes and merging together our group that leads in the field of instrument manufacturing with solar and space physics research teams, we'll be able to contribute to develop a new forecasting model giving a unique leap to mitigate adverse space weather phenomena.

The SAMM prototype will be completed by the end of 2018. Two more units will be prepared in 2019 and delivered to Gyula Research Center operated by the Hungarian Solar Physics Fundation and to the University of Colombia to put in place the first two "nodes" of the SAMM network.


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Sky on Earth (SoE) is a world wide network of telescopes aed to private or institutional subscribers. SoE instrumentation is optimized to address astronomical topics ranging from transients search to asteroids study and space debris tracking. The wide field images of SoE are of paramount importance to security of civil and military assets in space or on Earth.

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