- By SHIVALI BEST FOR MAILONLINE
- EISCAT_3D radar is being built at three sites in northern Scandinavia
- The radar will be used to probe the upper atmosphere and near-Earth space
- It will be 10 times faster and 10 times more precise than current radars
- Findings will help scientists to understand the effects of space weather storms on technology, society and the environment
Every few months, the Earth is hit by powerful solar eruptions that can cause power cuts, destruction of electronic devices, and increased cancer risks.
And scientists fear that someday a 'doomsday' solar flare could be on the way.
But the risks of solar storms could soon be reduced, as scientists are building the world's most advanced space weather radar in the Arctic.
The radar will be used to probe the upper atmosphere and near-Earth space, helping scientists to understand the effects of space weather storms on technology, society and the environment.
he radar, which has been dubbed EISCAT_3D, will be built in the Arctic by an international partnership, thanks to new investment of £6 million ($7.7 million) from NERC.
It comes shortly after the UK government placed space weather on the National Risk Register, due to the potential damage it can do to satellites, communications and power grids.
A separate recent study predicted solar storms could cause massive blackouts across America and cost the country up to $41.5 billion a day.
Dr Craig Heinselman, EISCAT Director, said: 'We are very excited to be starting construction of the new EISCAT_3D radar system.
'Building on over three and a half decades of scientific observations with the legacy EISCAT radars, this new multi-site phased-array radar will allow our international user community to investigate important questions about the physics of the near-Earth space environment.
'The radar will make measurements at least ten times faster and with ten times finer resolution than current systems.'
While scientists already know that solar storms drive space weather, it is still not clear how the Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere responds to this.
But researchers hope that EISCAT_3D will give them the means to understand these connections.
One of the key capabilities of the radar will be to measure the entire 3D volume of the upper atmosphere in unprecedented detail.
Understanding this will shed light on how energetic particles and electrical currents from space affect both the upper and the lower atmosphere.
Scientists will also be able to take measurements across scales from hundreds of metres to hundreds of kilometres, providing vast quantities of data.
One of the key capabilities of the radar will be to measure the entire 3D volume of the upper atmosphere in unprecedented detail
This isn't the first EISCAT radar – there are already several in the northern hemisphere that take measurements in a region of the Earth's upper atmosphere called the ionosphere – from about 70 to 1,000 km altitude.
These existing radars sample the electron concentration and temperature, and the ion temperature and velocity at a range of altitudes along the radar beam direction.
But, unlike the EISCAT_3D radar, the current EISCAT radars provide a single beam, so researchers can only look at one small portion of the sky at a given time.
Dr Andrew Kavanagh, UK EISCAT Science Support, based at the British Antarctic Survey, said: 'The new EISCAT_3D radar will measure the ionosphere in lots of different directions simultaneously.
'It will be like having hundreds of dishes all operating together, looking in different directions.
'This means we can easily see changes in the ionosphere and don't miss important data: when our measurements change we will be able to say whether something had just appeared or faded or if something was moving through the beams
While scientists already know that solar storms drive space weather, it is still not clear how the Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere responds to this. But researchers hope that EISCAT_3D will give them the means to understand these connections
'This is really important as it gives us information about how space weather effects evolve.'
The facility is predicted to cost £63 million ($80 million), and will be distributed across three sites in northern Scandinavia – in Skibotn, Norway, Kiruna in Sweden, and Kaaresuvanto in Finland.
The project will start this September, with site preparations beginning in summer 2018.
The radar is expected to be operational by 2021.
The facility is predicted to cost £63 million ($80 million), and will be distributed across three sites in northern Scandinavia – in Skibotn, Norway, Kiruna in Sweden, and Kaaresuvanto in Finland
The site in Skibotn will have a transmitter and receiver array, while the two other sites will have receiver arrays.
These will generate beams that will 'look into' the transmitted beam and give researchers many intersection heights.
NERC's chief executive, Professor Duncan Wingham, said: 'EISCAT_3D will give us a 3D picture of interactions between space weather and our upper atmosphere with a detail we've not seen before, giving us answers to questions researchers have about the impacts of space weather on the upper atmosphere.
'We need this information to reduce the risks posed by space weather on our communications systems, satellites and power grids, which we all rely on.'
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Image credit: NERC